Who could Hibs face in the Europa League play-off if they get past Molde?

Hibs could face one of Europe's big guns if they can get past Norwegian side Molde and reach the Europa League play-off round. With the draw due to be made later today, Patrick McPartlin looks at who Neil Lennon's side could face

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th August 2018, 11:52 am
Updated Monday, 6th August 2018, 11:53 am
Hibs romped to a 3-0 win over Motherwell despite their efforts on Thursday night in Greece. Picture: SNS Group
Hibs romped to a 3-0 win over Motherwell despite their efforts on Thursday night in Greece. Picture: SNS Group

The Easter Road side will be unseeded for the draw, and are in pot 5, which contains some stiff potential opposition. The draw takes place at 12.30pm UK time, at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

Dinamo Minsk or Zenit St Petersburg

Hibs could face a trip to either Belarus or Russia in today’s draw. Dinamo Minsk finished second in the Belarusian Premier League last season, with BATE Borisov pipping them to the title on goal difference.

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They conceded just 15 in the entire 30-game league season - the lowest in the division.

Former Hearts caretaker boss Eduard Malofeyev spent the bulk of his playing career with Minsk and has managed them on three separate occasions.

They have already seen off Derry City and Dunajska Streda in this year’s competition.

Zenit, meanwhile, need little introduction, having knocked Celtic out of the competition in the round of 32 last season.

The Krestovsky Stadium side have several seasoned internationals in their ranks, including Russia duo Artem Dzyuba - who netted three goals at the World Cup - and Daler Kuzyaev, who played in all five of his country’s World Cup matches; 105-cap Serbia international and former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic and Robert Mak, capped 45 times by Slovakia.

Zenit finished fifth in last year’s Russian Premier League behind champions Lokomotiv Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow and FC Krasnodar, but just seven points separated the top five teams.

They had the joint meanest defence along with Lokomotiv, conceding just 21 goals over the season and scoring 46. The Russians have played 169 matches in Europe to date, winning 88, drawing 30 and losing 51.

102 of those games have come in the Europa League (including the UEFA Cup and Inter-Cities Fairs Cup). They won the Europa League in 2008, beating Rangers 2-0 in the 2007/08 final.

Zenit are currently ranked 16th in Europe, in terms of co-efficient, placing them ahead of Manchester United, Monaco, Chelsea, Besiktas and Benfica.

Olympiacos or Luzern

A return trip to Greece could be on the cards if Hibs are drawn to face the winner of Olympiacos and Luzern.

Playing at the 32,115-capacity Karaiskakis Stadium, Olympiacos have reached the last 16 of the Europa League on four occasions, losing to Auxerre in 1989/90; Newcastle in 2004/05; Metalist Kharkiv in 2011/12 and Besiktas in 2016/17.

Olympiacos aren’t on league duty until August 25 but would present a tricky tie for Hibs to navigate given their pedigree.

Greek national team captain Vasilis Torosidis has returned to the club after an eight-year hiatus; the 33-year-old left in 2012 for spells with Roma and Bologna but has returned for the 2018/19 season.

Luzern, meanwhile, have already started their league season but have won just one of their three games so far and currently lie eighth in the Raiffeisen Super League.

An opening day loss at home to Neuchatel Xamax was followed up with a 2-1 defeat on the road at Thun, despite Luzern taking the lead. Their third match was a 4-2 victory over Lugano at the swissporarena.

There’s a familiar face for Jamie Maclaren, with Australian striker Tomi Juric leading the line for the Swiss side.

Luzern have played in Europe on 14 occasions, and in recent years knocked out St Johnstone on penalties in the Europa League second qualifying round. While most of their matches have ended in heavy aggregate defeats, they did defeat Genk 2-1 in the 2012/13 play-off first leg, and recorded a 2-1 win over Osijek in last year’s second qualifying round.

They finished third in last year’s league, five points ahead of FC Zurich and nine ahead of St Gallen. They won 15 of their 36 matches, drawing nine and losing 12 while scoring 51 goals and conceding the same amount.

Genk or Lech Poznan

Genk and Lech Poznan will battle it out for a place in the play-off round, with the Belgians - formerly managed by Scotland national team boss Alex McLeish - having warmed up for this clash with a comprehensive 9-1 aggregate defeat of Luxembourg’s Fola Esch in the previous round. They’ve kicked off their league campaign with a win and a draw - a 4-0 win over Lokeren and a 1-1 draw at home to Sint-Truiden.

Since 1997, Genk have been involved in a UEFA tournament every season barring the 2001-02, 2006-07 and 2008-09 campaigns.

The club’s best performance is reaching the group stage of the Champions League which they managed in 2002/03 and again in 2011/12.

In the 2016/16 Europa League group stages they beat Serie A side Sassuolo home and away; defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in Belgium and recorded a 1-0 win over Rapid Vienna.

Australia international goalkeeper Danny Vukovic will be another familiar face for Maclaren.

Poznan also have a couple of familiar faces in their squad in former Celtic defender Thomas Rogne, who played under Neil Lennon at Parkhead, and ex-Aberdeen loanee Nikola Vujadinovic.

Poznan have played in 68 Europa League games, winning 27, drawing 18 and losing 23. They have twice reached the round of 32, in 2009 and again in 2011. They defeat Armenian side Gandzasar Kapan 3-2 on aggregate in the first qualifying round, following it up with a 4-2 AET victory over Shakhtyor Soligorsk.

Zorya Luhansk or Braga

Ukrainian Premier League side Zorya Luhansk will battle it out with Portuguese outfit Braga for a place in the play-off round.

The Ukrainians finished fourth in last season’s UPL, behind league winners Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kyiv and Vorskla Poltava.

Zorya have played 26 matches in Europe, first competing in the 1973/74 European Cup as a Soviet representative. They defeated APOEL Nicosia in the first qualifying round but lost 1-0 on aggregate to Spartak Trnava in the following round.

The next time the club played in Europe was during the 2014/15 season - a gap of more than 40 years. They defeated Hibs’ opponents Molde 3-2 on aggregate in the 2014/15 Europa League third qualifying round,

Braga, winners of the 2008 Intertoto Cup, have wion 39 of their 85 matches in the Europa League and lost the 2010/11 final to Primeira Liga rivals Porto in Dublin.

In last season’s competition, they defeated AIK of Sweden in the third qualifying round, before seeing off FH of Iceland in the play-off.

They progressed from the group stages after finishing top of a group inclhding Istanbul Basaksehir, Ludogorets Razgrad and 1899 Hoffenheim, but were knocked out by Marseille in the round of 32.

Trencin or Feyenoord

Slovakian side Trencin are the lowest ranked team Hibs could potentially face - but they would have to get past Dutch masters Feyenoord first.

They have competed in Europe each season since the 2013/14 campaign, although their best result has been reaching the play-off round in the 2016/17 Europa League, where they were beaten by Rapid Vienna.

So far in this year’s competition they have defeated Buducnost Podgorica 3-1 on aggregate and Gornik Zabrze 5-1 on aggregate.

Beating Feyenoord will be a big ask for the Slovakian side, however, with the Eredivisie side having several seasoned internationals in their squad - such as Robin van Persie, and Denmark’s Nicolai Jorgensen - while Jordy Clasie, on loan from Southampton, has more than 150 Dutch top flight appearances under his belt and Steven Berghuis has played more than 180 Eredivisie matches.