After 11 seasons of Dinamo Zagreb’s dominance at the top of the HT Prva Liga, HNK Rijeka bucked the trend by winning their first ever top-flight title last season and securing UEFA Champions League football for the 2017/18 Season.
Runners-up for the previous three seasons, Rijeka have been a consistently strong force in Croatian football in recent years and have boasted players such as Andrej Kramarić – formerly of Leicester City – in amongst their ranks, proving that this is a club with some strong talent to call upon, as well as being an outfit that is very much on the rise.
8-0 conquerors of Prestatyn Town in the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League, the Croats have history against Welsh Premier League opposition, but this is the first time that The New Saints will have faced opposition from the country.
The HT Prva Liga Champions have a long and storied history in European competition, with 64 total fixtures under their belts stretching back as far as the 1978/79 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. The club has qualified for Europe over the past five seasons, reaching the Europa League group stages in 2014/15.
With The New Saints seeking progression to the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round for the first time since the 2010/11 season, Rijeka are one of the highest ranked teams TNS have faced at this stage of the competition. Trailing only APOEL and Legia Warsaw in terms of UEFA Club coefficients - ranked 125th in the standings - some 100 places higher than Scott Ruscoe’s men.
The mood in the camp at the moment is great, everyone is on a high after getting past Europa FC.
Based in a picturesque setting on the Croatian coast as the team go through their preparations for this first leg clash, The New Saints’ star winger Jamie Mullan previewed the game on TNS TV at the team’s hotel recently.
“We’re not here on holiday, we’re here to do a job, and hopefully we can go out and do that.
“It will be a very tough game against the Croatian champions; Dinamo Zagreb have been the more successful team in this country over the last few years, but Rijeka pipped them to the league last year so that tells you everything about their quality.
“The mood in the camp at the moment is great, everyone is on a high after getting past Europa FC, and I think a lot of people were expecting us to go out last week after losing the first leg. We managed to get through that, which has given us a boost and hopefully we can put another good performance in.”
HNK Rijeka v The New Saints kicks off at 7:45pm this evening and you can follow The New Saints (@tnsfc) and The Welsh Premier League (@WPL_Official) on Twitter for all of the latest news and updates from the game.
[Pictures: The New Saints FC]