The first competitive match for new FSV Mainz 05 coach Kasper Hjulmand has a date and locale, thanks to Friday’s Europa League draw for the third round of qualifiers, though there are still two possible visitors for the July 31 match that gets things started for last year’s seventh-place finisher.
Greek side Asteras Tripolis FC will host RoPS Rovaniemi of Finland this Thursday to determine which will get to attempt to spoil the debut of Hjulmand, who has the unenviable task of trying to maintain Mainz’s momentum from the success of the Thomas Tuchel era.
Asteras will arrive home with a slight edge in the fixture, bringing an away-goal home with them from their 1:1 draw during their trip to Raatti Stadium in Oulu as guests of Rovaniemi, about 200 kilometers south of the Lapland club’s hometown.
The Greek “Stars” of Tripoli are currently experiencing what is perhaps their greatest era of success, not unlike the recent golden-era of FSV football. A club-best third-place finish in the Greek Superleague in 2012-13, led to Asteras’ entry and progression to the third qualifying round of last year’s Europa League, ultimately bowing out to Rapid Wien. They also reached their first Greek Cup final last year, losing to Greek superpower Olympiakos in extra time.
Rovaniemi has a pair of brief UEFA Cup appearances and a quarterfinal appearance in the 1987-88 Cup Winner’s Cup against Olympique Marseille, but if thee name sounds familiar to you at all, it’s unlikely due to their runs in those competitions. Several players for the club were convicted in 2011 of match-fixing.
While the club tries to put the controversy behind them, they’ve been performing a yo-yo act between the top two Finnish leagues, currently playing in the second division after finishing second from bottom in the 2013 campaign of the 12-club Veikkausliiga. It was RoPS’ first cup title since 1986 that gave the eleventh-placed side something to celebrate from their efforts, aside from not being relegated.
Whichever side comes to Coface Arena at the end of the month, new Manz boss Hjulmand is anxious to get his Bundesliga coaching career off to a great start, though knows his side will face a challenge.
“We look forward to the task, regardless of which team we must compete against,” said the former FC Nordsjaelland boss. “We have a lot of respect for both opponents, especially as both have been in preparation and competition somewhat longer than we have. We have prior knowledge of Greek and Finnish football, but we know neither team yet. We are starting our targeted analysis now.”
The Europa League tie presents itself as a great opportunity for Hjulmand, as well as his new club. Though fans are left somewhat sour on how he left at the end of the 2013-14 season, Thomas Tuchel had provided FSV fans with an atmosphere of success. Tuchel had led FSV into Europe one time prior to the campaign on which it is about to embark, but Mainz failed to survive its first tie, losing to Gaz Metan Medias of Romania on penalties. Whatever happens under Hjulmand, he can get an early leg up on his predecessor’s legacy by leading Mainz to its first progression in Europe since the 2005-06 UEFA Cup.