What can Hibs expect from Europa League opponents NSI Runavik?
Everything you need to know about Hibs' opponents in the first round of Europa League qualifying.
Where exactly is Runavik?
NSI are based in the village of Runavik, found in the southern half of Eysturoy, the second largest of the Faroe Islands.
Their home is the Runavik Stadium but the 2,000-capacity ground doesn’t meet UEFA guidelines for European competition, so their home tie against Hibs has been fixed for the Svangaskarð dtadium in Toftir.
B68 Toftir play their home games there, although the Faroes national team still occasionally uses it for some matches.
Who are they?
NSI Runavik, or Nes Sóknar Ítróttarfelag Runavík to give them their full name, are one of 18 football teams in the Faroes, all of whom are semi-professional.
Founded in 1957, NSI Runavik’s colours are yellow and black, and they play in the country’s Premier League, the Betrideildin.
The club doesn’t have the same history of success as rivals B36 Torshavn or HB, having won the league title just once - in 2007 during their 50th anniversary year - and the Faroe Islands Cup on three occasions in 1986, 2002 and 2017, which secured their entry into this year’s Europa League competition.
What’s their European record like?
Despite their modest achievements on the domestic front, NSI have appeared in Europe on 11 occasions, with the match against Hibs their 12th outing.
However, of their 22 matches in the UEFA Cup, Intertoto Cup, Champions League and Europa League, Runavik have only won two matches. A 1-0 home win over Dinamo Tbilisi in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League first qualifying round wasn’t enough as the Georgians had won 3-0 in the first leg, while a spirited 4-3 victory over Northern Irish side Linfield in the 2015/16 UEFA Europa League first qualifying round wasn’t enough to cancel out the 2-0 win for the Blues at Windsor Park.
A creditable 0-0 draw with Fulham in the 2011/12 Europa League was in vain after the English side had won 3-0 at Craven Cottage in the first leg.
Their 5-4 aggregate defeat to Linfield remains the club’s closest result in Europe — in Runavik’s first forays into European competition they lost 9-1 on aggregate to FK Lyn of Norway in 2003; 7-1 on aggregate to Danish side Esbjerg fB in the 2004 Intertoto Cup and suffered successive 3-0 defeats to lose 6-0 on aggregate to Latvia’s Liepajas Metalurgs in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup.
NSI have scored just ten goals in those 22 matches — and nearly half of those came in one match.
Who’s in charge?
The manager is 46-year-old Sámal Erik Hentze, who owns a construction company when he’s not prowling the touchline. A former player, he enjoyed a 22-year career turning out for HB, B68 Toftir and Argja Bóltfelag in midfield, but was only capped once at Under-21 level.
He was named manager of the year in 2016 for his exploits with Víkingur Gøta, and took charge at Runavik ahead of the 2018 season.
What about key players?
Captain and Runavik native Klaemint Olsen has been playing for the club since 2007, and in that time the centre forward amassed 151 goals in 250 games. He was the league’s top scorer for four consecutive seasons between 2013 and 2017. Olsen has been capped ten times by the national team; his most recent appearances coming in friendly matches against Latvia and Liechtenstein in March of this year.
Versatile defender / midfielder Pól Jóhannus Justinussen, another local lad, is in his fourth spell with NSI. He has scored five goals in 14 games this season, and has been capped 25 times by the Faroes.
Justinussen’s defensive colleague Jóhan Troest Davidsen had a spell with Everton in his younger days. The 30-year-old has been capped 35 times for his country.
In midfield, Runavik could start 40-year-old veteran Fródi Benjaminsen. The 95-times capped Toftir native joined NSI from Víkingur Göta in February, and also played in the 2-2 draw with Scotland in September 2002.
What sort of chance do Hibs have?
NSI are in the middle of their season, so they won’t be rusty, but they are still a semi-professional team, and with the first leg almost certainly taking place at Easter Road, Hibs will fancy their chances of taking an unassailable aggregate lead to the Faroes.
That being said, Scotland were twice held to draws by the Faroes in Toftir, while Fulham’s 0-0 draw and Linfield’s 4-3 defeat should both serve as a warning to Hibs not to take their Nordic opponents lightly.