UEFA hand Hearts glamour tie in tough Europa Conference League group

UEFA have paired Hearts with İstanbul Başakşehir, Fiorentina and Riga FS in a daunting Europa Conference League group.
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The Edinburgh club are guaranteed some extremely difficult ties in Group A having drawn the Turkish side and Italian giants as well as the Latvian outfit.

Başakşehir finished fourth in Turkey’s Super Lig last season, Fiorentina came seventh in Serie A and Riga are champions of Latvia.

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The Italian club are without doubt the glamour team in the section but both they and Başakşehir will provide tough opposition for Hearts, who dropped into the Conference League from the Europa League play-off on Thursday evening.

FC Zurich’s 3-1 aggregate victory at Tynecastle Park consigned Hearts to a parachute into UEFA’s third tournament, meaning six group matches in total between now and November.

The dates for the games are: September 8, September 15, October 6, October 13, October 27 and November 3. Fixtures, venues and kick-off times should be confirmed within 24 hours of the draw.

İstanbul Başakşehir are coached by the former Turkish internationalist Emre Belözoğlu and have a number of experienced internationalists in their squad. Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil is a their most decorated player by some distance but he is surrounded by many others who understand top-level football.

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Midfielder Lucas Biglia holds 36 caps for Argentina, winger Nacer Chadli is a mainstay of the Belgian international squad, and forward Danijel Aleksić has played for Serbia. They also have the Burkina Faso striker Bertrand Traore on loan from English Premier League club Aston Villa.

UEFA pulled Hearts' name from Pot 3 in the Europa Conference League draw.UEFA pulled Hearts' name from Pot 3 in the Europa Conference League draw.
UEFA pulled Hearts' name from Pot 3 in the Europa Conference League draw.

Başakşehir’s Fatih Terim Stadium is of similar size to Tynecastle with a capacity of just over 17,000. It opened just eight years ago and is well facilitated for modern European ties.

The eyes of Hearts supporters will naturally be drawn to Fiorentina, one of Italy’s most respected sides.

Coach Vincenzo Italiano is building a solid reputation in Serie A and players like the Argentina international forward Nicolas Gonzalez are helping his cause.

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Midfielder Gaetano Castrovilli has played for the Italian national team, while forward Jonathan Ikoné has four caps and one goal for France so far in his career.

Striker Luka Jovic counts Real Madrid, Eintracht Frankfurt, Benfica and Red Star Belgrade among his former employers and is still just 24. He is a regular at international level with Serbia.

Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi is a traditional venue with a capacity of more than 43,000. It has been known to intimidate even the most illustrious opponents.

Much less is known about Riga. Their tiny LNK Sporta Park can accommodate just 2,500 supporters and they have been playing European ties at the city’s Skonto Stadium, which holds 8,000.

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Riga FS [Futbola Skola] won the Latvian league title for the first time in 2021 and beat Northern Irish side Linfield on penalties on Thursday evening to reach the Conference League groups.

One of their most experienced players is the Latvian international centre-back Vitālijs Maksimenko, who at 31 holds more than 50 caps. He also enjoyed a brief loan spell with Kilmarnock back in 2014.

Hearts get £250,000 for dropping from Europa League to Conference League and will earn around £2.8million for taking part. Extra money will be gained from ticket sales and points won in the section.

The Conference League pays clubs £420,000 per win and £140,000 for a draw.