Mesut Ozil heading to Tynecastle as Hearts devise plan with Europa Conference League fixtures confirmed
Mesut Ozil’s impending arrival at Tynecastle Park generated a fair degree of excitement following Friday’s Europa Conference League draw.
Hearts were paired with Ozil’s Turkish club İstanbul Başakşehir, plus Italian giants Fiorentina and Latvian champions Riga FS in Group A. Manager Robbie Neilson is relishing the prospect of visiting two of Europe’s footballing hotbeds and said all concerned should enjoy the experience.
Shackling Ozil will test whoever is tasked with the marking job – but Neilson joked he might need four men to look after the World Cup-winning German midfielder.
“I'll need to pick about four of them, I think,” he laughed. “I think it's great to be going in at that level, for the boys to experience facing these guys who have been at the very top. We can go in with confidence. If we can match the intensity and belief of Thursday night against Zurich then we can take teams on.”
Hearts parachuted into the Conference League after a 3-1 aggregate defeat by the Swiss champions in the Europa League play-off. “I think it's a great draw,” continued Neilson. “The trips will be brilliant for the fans.
“Fiorentina need no introduction. They have been one of the top teams in Europe for a number of years, they've played in all the tournaments and won trophies. It's a great place to go.
“Istanbul will be an unbelievable atmosphere, as you get in these places. For the fans, players and staff to experience it will be great. Latvia is a different country for us all and hopefully a chance to go and play well and pick up points.
"You are going to play good teams and see the level we need to try to get to consistently. We have earned the right to play group-stage football. We knew whoever came out that hat would be tough, especially from Pot 1 and Pot 2.
"These are great games and that's what we want. We want to bring these teams to Tynecastle under the floodlights with a big atmosphere and real intensity. We want to have a go like we did against Zurich.”
Neilson acknowledged that the European fixtures will be “up another couple of levels” from domestic affairs and stressed players must adapt to travelling.
“You finish these games at ten o'clock at night, then there's drug-testing so you don't leave the stadium till half past 11 or 12 o'clock. Then you travel all the way home and it's difficult, but that's part of being in Europe. You need to get used to it.”
UEFA confirmed Conference League fixtures as follows:
Hearts v İstanbul Başakşehir: September 8, 5.45pm
Riga FS v Hearts: September 15, 8pm
Hearts v Fiorentina: 6 October, 8pm
Fiorentina v Hearts: 13 October, 5.45pm
Hearts v Riga FS: 27 October, 8pm
İstanbul Başakşehir v Hearts: November 3, 3.30pm
Hearts resume Premiership duties at home to St Johnstone on Sunday with defender Stephen Kingsley nursing a hamstring issue.
“He is one we will have a look at until the last minute,” confirmed Neilson. “Craig Halkett is still out, Alex Cochrane and Toby Sibbick are suspended.
“I've watched St Johnstone this season and they have been unlucky. They play the same system, know exactly what they are doing and have loads of energy and competitiveness.
“We need to make sure we match that, which is always the issue after a European game. Can you get that intensity and win?”