Maribor vs Hibernian
First Leg, Third Qualifying Round, Europa League
Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor, Slovenia
Thursday, July 29th 2010
1930 (UK Time)
Hibernian kick off their almost inaugural early European football humiliations tomorrow night against Slovenia’s most successful club, NK Maribor, in the 3rd qualifying round of the Europa League. Thankfully us Hibs fans no longer have to put ourselves through the ritual humiliation of the old Inter-Toto cup, which has seen Hibs tumble out pathetically to the likes of Elfsborg, Odense and FK Vetra in the past decade.
But who are NK Maribor? Hibernian assistant Brian Rice has been sent to scout them, and took in their second league game of the season at the weekend, in order to pinpoint their threats and weaknesses. As previously mentioned Maribor are Slovenia’s most successful league club with 6 titles, and boast a management team that includes ex-Slovenian internationalists Zlatko Zahovic (who also played for Valencia and Benfica) and Darko Milanic, both of whom represented their country at Euro 2000.
Soaring temperatures in the picturesque city of Maribor, which lies on the river Drava, have also given some fans cause for concern; many perhaps remembering Scotland’s disastrous early qualification attempts two years ago in Macedonia in similarly sweltering temperatures.
After an intensive 4 game tour of Holland, which saw Hibs play 4 Eredivise sides (Vitesse Arnhem, ADO Den Haag, NEC Nijmegen and Heracles) and only register 1 victory, the team will be eager to prove that these tough friendly fixtures will provide excellent preparation for a crack at qualifying for the Europa League group stages.
The tie also provides the majority of Hibs fans to get their first glimpse of how the team is shaping up for the new season, with the return leg at Easter Road on the 5th of August. Supporters will be keen to see new signings Michael Hart, David Stephens and Edwin De Graaf in action; Hibs gaffer John Hughes using the summer break to strengthen and tighten up his squad.
However, Hughes will no doubt still rely heavily on the quality of strikers Riordan and Stokes, who virtually dragged Hibs screaming and kicking into these qualifiers after a poor end to the 2009/2010 domestic campaign.
Hibernian do have a relatively respectable European pedigree having reached the Semi Finals of both the European Cup (now the Champions League) and the Fairs Cup (effectively now the Europa League),as well as twice reaching the Quarter Finals of that same competition.
However these European sojourns date back to the 1950s and 1960s, firmly rooted in the memories of a dwindling number of supporters. While the club still regularly competed in the UEFA Cup in the 1970s, it was with little success and Hibs have failed to penetrate the consciousness of European football ever since, with inglorious defeats in the first round of the UEFA Cup to Dnipro, AEK Athens and Anderlecht providing the only entertainment in the past 20 years.
Hibs, then, will be keen to prove to themselves and their fans that change is on the way, and that change begins tomorrow night in the blazing sunshine of Slovenia.
Maribor vs Hibernian Coverage
No television or radio coverage seems available at the moment, however the official Hibernian website is investigating the possibility of either streaming the game live or reporting on it via a radio link for its members.