Hearts today learned that they will face one of two sides in the Europa League Qualifying Third Round. The draw, in which the Edinburgh club were seeded, paired them with either Paksi SE of Hungary or Tromsø IL of Norway. The two clubs met this week in the first leg of their 2nd round tie, with a 1-1 draw in Hungary favouring Tromsø as the likely side to progress to face Jim Jefferies’ side.
The winners of the third round tie will then progress to a play-off round to decide who will move on to the group stages of this season’s Europa League. No doubt the Hearts backroom staff will already be planning their homework assignments on the two potential opponents, neither of who will be underestimated by the Tynecastle side.
Founded in 1952, based in Paks, this Hungarian side are relatively new to this level of football. Having spent their entire history outwith the top division, they eventually managed to gain promotion to the top flight of Hungarian football in 2006. Their surprise 2nd place finish in last season’s campaign enabled them to qualify for European competition for the first time, and they made their debut by emphatically defeating Andorran side UE Santa Coloma 5-0 on aggregate.
The club’s colours are green and white, and they play at the Stadion PSE, which has a capacity of less than 5,000.
The majority of the current Paksi squad are relative unknown quantities, although it does contain former Hungarian internationals László Éger and Ádám Hrepka, who is on loan from MTK Budapest. Paks born Gábor Vayer has also played abroad in countries such as Portugal, and won eleven caps for the Hungarian Under-21 side.
The Norwegian side, who finished 3rd last season, are certainly the favourites to progress to the next round and face Hearts, and are far more experienced at this level than Paksi. Formed in 1920, the club have won the league three times in their homeland, and the cup on two occasions. They currently play their home matches at the Alfheim Stadion, which has a capacity of 7,500.
They have competed in European competition on seven occasions, between the late 1980s and present day. They have also faced Scottish and English opposition previously, losing 1-0 on aggregate to St Mirren in the 1987-88 Cup Winners Cup. In the 1997-98 season they faced Chelsea in the same competition, going out 9-4 on aggregate, although managing to beat the London side in Norway 3-2.
The last time they competed in Europe, in season 2009/10, they performed admirably in Europa League qualifying, comfortably beating sides from Belarus and Croatia, before narrowly losing 3-2 to Spanish side Athletic Bilbao in the play-off. In season 2005-06 they competed in the group stage of the old UEFA Cup, recording a victory against Red Star Belgrade, but ultimately failing to progress to the knock-out stages.
The current squad contains Finnish international Miika Koppinen who is in his second spell at the club, and is someone who has European experience with Rosenberg.
Club captain Sigurd Rushfeldt, once of Birmingham City, is a strong striker, with an international record of 38 caps, scoring 7 goals for Norway in the process. He may be 38 years old now, but could still pose a threat as he is the all-time top goal scorer in the Tippeligaen, Norway’s top division.
The club is currently managed by former Norway Under-19, Under-21 and Rosenberg coach Per-Mathias Høgmo.
The second leg between Tromsø IL and Paksi will take place on Thursday 21st July at the Alfheim Stadion, 19.00 kick off, refereed by Turkey’s Yunus Yildirim.
The victors of that tie will go on to face Hearts at home on Thursday 28th of July in the first leg of the 3rd round, followed by the return game at Tynecastle on the 4th of August.