STEVE BRUCE plans to use the prospect of taking on some of football’s biggest names later in this season’s Europa League as motivation for his players ahead of Hull City tomorrow creating another notable slice of history.
Just 10 weeks on from a first FA Cup final appearance, the Tigers will make their debut in European competition.
A third-round qualifying tie in Slovakia against FK AS Trencin is not the most glamorous of opening assignments, especially with the hosts having been forced to move the tie 45 miles north to the city of Zilina due to their own 4,300-capacity stadium not meeting UEFA regulations.
This, though, has not put off an estimated 500 fans who plan to head behind the old Iron Curtain to watch Hull take on last season’s runners-up in the Slovakian top flight.
Speaking ahead of today’s 10am flight from Humberside Airport, Bruce told The Yorkshire Post: “Whatever league a team plays in, if they are decent enough to qualify for Europe then they must be decent.
“Since the draw was made and left us with an either/or tie, we have had them watched and I can say they have some decent players.
“We know they like to get the ball down and play. They are a decent side, too, and, of course, they have been playing a lot longer than we have. Their season is already under way, so they will be match sharp. You can do all the fitness work in the world but match sharpness is a different thing altogether.
“It would be nice to have three or four games under our belt, but that isn’t the case so we will just get on with it. I am expecting a typical European game and we will have to be ready for the challenge.”
Trencin, formed in 1992, are competing in the Europa League qualifying round for the second time after being knocked out at the corresponding stage a year ago by Romanian outfit Astra Giurga.
If Hull can beat the Slovakian side over two legs, the second of which takes place at the KC Stadium on August 7, they must then negotiate one more hurdle to reach the group stage.
Among those sides set to join the competition during next month’s play-off round are Inter Milan, Villarreal and FC Twente, it is clear that the quality of opposition will improve significantly the closer it gets to the all-important group stage when Fiorentina, Dynamo Kiev and holders Sevilla will be among the entrants.
For Bruce, the prospect of facing such renowned names is something that he feels should inspire his players.
He said: “I am not sure what the atmosphere will be like. The game is taking place a bit away from their home town so maybe that will mean some of their fans won’t be able to travel.
“So, in that respect, I honestly don’t know. This tie is a step into the unknown in a lot of ways, we will just have to wait and see.
“That, to me, is the beauty of Europe anyway. It isn’t all about Spain, Italy or Germany. The smaller nations can be just as tough to face.
“Our goal is to get into the group stage, where we could face some of the big names of European football.
“That is the carrot for us, in terms of why we need to make sure we get through both qualifying rounds if at all possible. That is what I will tell the players.”
Bruce will make his managerial bow in Europe tomorrow night, but he has an impressive pedigree as a player.
The clear highlight came as part of the Manchester United side which beat Barcelona in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final in Rotterdam.
He added: “I am looking forward to it. I enjoyed it as a player, it really is a marvelous experience. It seems that long ago that I can’t really remember it too well if I am honest, but let’s go and enjoy it.”
Windass on Europe: Page 22