Hibs in Europe: The teams lying in wait in play-off round if Hibees beat Rijeka

Ahead of Hibs’ Europa Conference League third qualifying round tie against HNK Rijeka, the Easter Road side knows which teams they might face in the play-off round, should they get past the Croatians.

By Patrick McPartlin
Sunday, 1st August 2021, 11:41 am
Hibs already know their potential opponents in the play-off round, should they get past Rijeka
Hibs already know their potential opponents in the play-off round, should they get past Rijeka

The draw for the penultimate round before the group stages takes place on Monday, August 2 and has been split into groups ahead of time.

Should Jack Ross guide his team past the Prva Liga side, they could face potential trips to Finland, Greece, Belgium, or the Netherlands with the possibility of ties against teams from Kazakhstan, the Republic of Ireland, Latvia, and Switzerland.

KuPS or Astana

Finnish side KuPS, or Kuopion Palloseura to give the club its full name, finished third in last season’s Veikkausliiga having won it in 2019. They are managed by former Motherwell midfielder Simo Valakari and have ex-Hibs ‘keeper Otso Virtanen in their squad. Home games are played at the 5,000-capacity Savon Sanomat Areena in Kuopio.

They currently lie second after 13 games of the present season and defeated Noah of Armenia and Vorskla Poltava to reach the third qualifying round. Their best performance in continental competition was in 2020/21 when they reached the play-off round, losing to CFR Cluj of Romania.

They will come up against Astana of Kazakhstan. They also finished third in their national league last year and play at the 30,254-seater Astana Arena in the capital Nur-Sultan.

Astana’s manager Andrey Tikhonov enjoyed a 20-year playing career in Russia, Israel, and Kazakhstan, with Astana, and worked as assistant boss at Krylia Sovetov Samara, Spartak Moscow, and FC Krasnodar before taking the reins at Yenisey Krasnoyarsk and Krylia ahead of a return to Astana.

They defeated Aris of Greece in the 2QR, and have made the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League on one and four occasions respectively.

Bohemian / PAOK

Also lying in wait will be the winners of Bohemian and PAOK. The Greeks finished second in the 2020/21 Super League and are owned by Russian-Greek businessman Ivan Savvidis, known for once causing a match to be abandoned after invading the pitch with a gun after a goal for PAOK in a match against AEK Athens was ruled out for offside.

Home games are played at the 29,000-capacity Toumba Stadium while manager Răzvan Lucescu is now in his second stint in charge. They have played 200 games in Europe, winning 72, drawing 58 and losing 70. Among their players are former Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa and veteran captain Vieririnha, who won Euro 2016 with Portugal.

They will need to beat Bohemians to reach the play-off round. The Dublin-based outfit finished runners-up in last season’s League of Ireland Premier Division and have played more than 70 games in Europe. Managed by former Keith Long, who has been in post since November 2014, Bohs currently lie fourth in the table.

Included in their squad are former Scotland-based players Ali Coote and Liam Burt.

FC Luzern / Feyenoord

FC Luzern finished fifth in last season’s Swiss top flight, and have won seven matches of their 32 in European competition – one, coincidentally, against Feyenoord in the 1992/93 Cup Winners’ Cup. They lost on penalties to St Johnstone in the 2QR of the 2014/15 Europa League.

Swiss-born manager Fabio Celestini played in France and Spain as well as his homeland and has had stints in charge of Terracina in Italy, as well as hometown club Lausanne-Sport and Lugano.

Former Bayern Munich and Germany internationalist Holger Badstuber now plays for Luzern, who will hope to beat…

Feyenoord, whoneed little introduction for Hibs fans after signing Ofir Marciano during the summer. The Eredivisie side was run close by Drita of Kosovo in the 2QR but prevailed thanks to a 90th-minute second-leg winner from Guus Til after a goalless draw in the first leg.

Feyenoord finished fifth in last season's Dutch top flight, qualifying for the Europa Conference League by beating Utrecht in the European Competition Play-offs final following a semi-final success over Sparta Rotterdam and have extensive European experience under the belt.

The club is managed by Arne Slot, who previously served as AZ boss between July 2019 and December 2020.

FK Rīgas Futbola Skola / KAA Gent

RFS finished second in last season’s Latvian Optibet Virslīga, just three points behind title-winners Riga. They are making just their third appearance in European football, having debuted in 2019/20 with a 4-3 aggregate defeat by Olimpija Ljubljana. They lost to Partizan Belgrade in 2020/21 and so far in the European Conference League have seen off KÍ of the Faroe Islands and Hungarian side Puskás Akadémia.

Defender Roberts Savaļnieks has been capped 31 times by Latvia and was one of five RFS call-ups in the most recent national team squad.

Manager Viktors Morozs spent most of his playing career with Riga as well as enjoying stints in Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Belarus. He served as No.2 at BFC Daugavpils before joining RFS in 2020.

KAA Gent, meanwhile, are seasoned European campaigners, having played 97 matches in UEFA competitions since the 1964/65 season. They have improved in recent years, reaching the round of 16 in the 2015/16 Champions League after finishing second in a group with Lyon, Zenit St Petersburg, and Lyon, and reached the same stage in the Europa League the following season where they were eliminated by league rivals KRC Genk.

Manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck is in his second spell managing the club and has also managed Anderlecht, Kortrijk, and Genk.

Gent are currently second bottom of the Belgian First Division A but have played just one game of the 2021/22 season.

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