Should Hearts defeat Maltese side Birkirkara - which after last night’s showing they are expected to - they’ll come up against Russian outfit Krasnodar in the third qualifying round for the Europa League.
It used to be the case that, if you were a Scottish football fan and your team drew an unfamiliar European name, you’d have a good chance of qualifying. Unfortunately this is not longer the case and Hearts will have to be at their very best to overcome Krasnodar if they make it past Birkirkara next week.
Here’s everything you need to know about Hearts’ prospective opponents.
1. They’ve got a very strong team
Krasnodar may not be a household name in Edinburgh, but the side that finished fourth in Russia’s top flight last season boasts a squad with many international footballers. The defence alone is littered with them. Centre backs Andreas Granqvist and Ragnar Sigurðsson featured at Euro 2016 for Sweden and Iceland, respectively, while Artur Jędrzejczyk played in every match for Poland. Alyaksandr Martynovich has been capped almost 50 times by Belarus, while defender Stefan Strandberg (Norway) and goalkeeper Stanislav Kritsyuk (Russia) are also two internationals. Though there’s not quite the same pedigree further forward, they still boast three players called up to Russia’s Euro 2016 squad. Pavel Mamayev and Fyodor Smolov played in all three of Russia’s games, including the 1-1 draw with England, while Dmitri Torbinski was also in the squad but didn’t feature.
2. They’re coming off two strong Europa League campaigns
In each of the last two seasons, their first in European competition, Krasnodar have qualified for the Europa League group stages. In their first campaign they defeated Real Sociedad in the play-off before being drawn in a group with Lille, Wolfsburg and Everton. Despite losing only twice, both tiems to Wolfsburg, they exited the group in third place, though they did defeat Everton at Goodison Park.
Last season they bettered Slovan Bratislava and HJK Helsinki in qualifying before being drawn in the same group as Borussia Dortmund, beating the German side at home 1-0. They would advance from the group in first place before being eliminated by Slavia Prague in the round of 32.
3. They’re bankrolled by a billionaire
Krasnodar’s owner, Sergey Galitsky, is a self-made billionaire. The 48-year-old started with one corner shop in Krasnodar and is now the majority shareholder of the largest retail chain in Russia, Magnit. The business continues to grow to this day and it’s possible that Galitsky will one day become the richest man in Russia.
Galtisky has spent more than £250 million basically creating Krasnodar from scratch. The club was only founded in 2008, making it to the Russian Premier League at the end of their third season. Since then they’ve never finished outside the top ten and have finished in the top five in each of the last three seasons.
4. They’ve got a brand new 33,000-seater stadium
Krasnodar Stadium is a very impressive ground. Purpose made for football, the bowl-shaped arena was completed earlier this year after a two-and-a-half-year construction process. Prior to this, Krasnodar were forced to share with local rivals Kuban Krasnodar after they quickly outgrew their initial home, 3,000-seater Trud Stadium.
5. Their local rivals defeated Motherwell three years ago
Fans could be forgiven for confusing Krasnodar with the team that dumped Motherwell out of the Europa League in 2013. Kuban, who’ll soon be tenants of Krasnodar as they renovate their own stadium, had former Liverpool striker Djibril Cissé among their ranks when they won the first leg 2-0 in Lanarkshire before defeating Stuart Mccall’s men 1-0 in Russia.