Hearts race to beat UEFA deadline to compete in Europe

Hearts: racing against clock to complete club licensing application. Picture: SNS
Hearts: racing against clock to complete club licensing application. Picture: SNS
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HEARTS officials are working diligently to complete their club licensing application in time for UEFA’s deadline of March 31 to ensure they can compete in Europe next season.

The Edinburgh club, as with all others wishing to enter European competition, have just eight days to submit documents on every aspect of their business – sporting, infrastructure, personnel, legal and financial. Provided these are all in order with no payments outstanding up until December 31 last year, they should secure a club licence to play in Europe in season 2012/13.

Scottish clubs must initially submit their data for the Scottish Football Association to study. The SFA then nominates teams fit to enter UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League, with Rangers expected to miss out this year due to administration. UEFA has the power to deny any club entry to their competitions if they do not meet the strict criteria.

Tynecastle officials, along with parent club Ukio Bankas Investment Group, are gathering the necessary information to lodge their application by the end of next week.

Provided everything is submitted in time, sources at the SFA do not anticipate any problem with Hearts being granted a club licence by UEFA for next season.

Hearts hope to reach the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, either through progress in the Scottish Cup or via their final position in the Scottish Premier League.

Meanwhile, a late decision will be taken on the fitness of Hearts striker Stephen Elliott for tomorrow’s SPL match with St Johnstone.

The Irishman has a hip injury but has an outside chance of making the matchday squad if he can prove he is ready.

Elliott sustained the injury in last weekend’s Edinburgh derby win and missed Wednesday night’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay against St Mirren. He has been receiving treatment at Riccarton this week and it remains to be seen if he will be available for the trip to Perth.

Mehdi Taouil is not expected to feature, with manager Paulo Sergio considering whether to name the same starting line-up which won in Paisley. His only concern is whether some players may be feeling fatigued after two physically demanding matches inside four days.

Top scorer Rudi Skacel is likely to start in Perth after scoring his 11th goal of the season on Wednesday night to help Hearts secure a cup semi-final place against Celtic. The Czech believes Hearts have the potential to beat the Glasgow club at Hampden on April 15 and then return for a showpiece final against either Hibs or Aberdeen in May.

“The semi-final is 50-50, it doesn’t matter who your opponent is. Half the stadium will be behind us and we believe we can do it. It’s only 90 minutes,” he said.

Skacel scored in the 2006 final as Hearts eventually prevailed over Gretna on penalties after a 1-1 draw and is eager to repeat the experience. “It’s an amazing memory and gives me motivation to do the job at Hampden and get to the final again,” he continued.

“This is a different time and a different team, we have to do our job and get to the final. We didn’t start very well against St Mirren and Jamie (MacDonald) made some massive saves. That woke us up and we started to play and became the better team. Our supporters were incredible, it was like we won the World Cup.”