Kye Rowles reveals changing-room mindset with Hearts 90 minutes away from facing likes of Manchester United, Roma, Lazio, Arsenal or Real Betis

Kye Rowles has played just five competitive matches for Hearts but finds himself 90 minutes away from potentially facing Manchester United, Roma, Lazio, Arsenal or Real Betis in the Europa League.

The Edinburgh club are one game from the lucrative group stages as they welcome FC Zurich to Tynecastle Park for Thursday’s play-off return leg. They are 2-1 down from the first match in Switzerland but, with a full and raucous support behind them, believe they can progress.

Awaiting them in the group phase are some of European football’s most respected names. Real Sociedad, Feyenoord and SC Braga are also potential opponents along with United, Arsenal, both Rome clubs and Betis.

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“It is pretty wild, to be honest,” admitted Rowles, the Australian defender who joined Hearts from Central Coast Mariners during the summer. “We are just focused on the game, not the occasion or where it could get us. We know if we focus on this game and do our best then the result will come and we can worry about that stuff afterwards.”

Hearts are determined not to rely on the safety net of a Europa Conference League spot, which awaits the losers of this play-off tie.

“We don't want to rest on the fact that we have guaranteed group-stage football,” said Rowles. “We want to mix it with the best and qualify for the Europa League so we are focused on getting a positive result.”

Lawrence Shankland’s first-leg penalty preceded two quick goals by Adrian Guerrero and Blerim Džemaili to hand Zurich their advantage. At that point, the experience of Hearts captain Craig Gordon and defender Stephen Kingsley kicked in.

“They definitely helped to steady the ship,” revealed Rowles.” They just looked around and told all us young boys: ‘Keep your head and just focus on your next pass, your next touch. Don’t let the situation get out of hand.’ I think that really helped us stay in the game.

Kye Rowles is relishing the prospect of group stage European football at Hearts. Picture: Picture: Mark Scates / SNS

“I tried to watch as many group-stage and qualifying games as I can [back home] but obviously the time difference is a bit dodgy. I’ve always enjoyed watching the European games with the best teams going at it. You try to learn from the players playing in those games.”

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