Hibs braced for another UEFA Youth League test as they await play-off round with Europe's big guns lying in wait
Hibs will find out this afternoon which European powerhouse they will welcome to Easter Road in February when the draw for the play-off round of the UEFA Youth League (UYL) is made in Nyon.
Steve Kean’s youngsters booked their place in the draw after eliminating Norwegians Molde 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 aggregate draw, and seeing off much-fancied French outfit Nantes in the second round of the Domestic Champions section of the competition.
Speaking after the victory in France Kean said: “I am thrilled for the lads to get another opportunity to play against a big club in the next round. There are a lot of big names in the mix, so bring it on.”
Their prize for getting past Molde and Nantes is a one-legged home encounter against Ajax, Porto, Inter Milan, Eintracht Frankfurt, Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Borussia Dortmund, or Juventus, who all finished as runners-up in the Champions League Path of the UYL.
Porto and Salzburg are previous winners of the competition, while the latter were runners-up last season. Shakhtar were beaten finalists in 2014/15. Both Ajax and Juventus have previously reached the final four while Dortmund were knocked out at the quarter-final stage last term.
As well as Hibs, AZ Alkmaar, MTK Budapest, Genk, Hajduk Split, Ruh Lviv, Panathinaikos, and Young Boys progressed to the play-off round from the Domestic Champions path. Clubs from the same association cannot be paired with each other at this stage so AZ won’t face Ajax and Ruh Lviv will avoid Shakhtar.
The winners of the play-off round ties will advance to the round of 16 along with the eight winners of the Champions League path: AC Milan, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Sporting CP.
The tournament takes on a straight knockout format from the round of 16 onwards to decide the four teams that will meet in April’s semi-finals, also held in Nyon at the Centre Sportif de Colovray.
Hibs will contest their play-off match on February 7/8, with the draw for the round of 16 being made on February 13. The first knockout stage games will be played on February 28/March 1, with the quarter-finals scheduled for March 14/15. The semi-finals have been pencilled in for April 21, with the final three days later on April 24.