Despite a 1-0 second qualifying round first-leg loss to ŠK Slovan Bratislava on Tuesday, The New Saints FC's veteran midfielder Scott Ruscoe is confident his side can still make UEFA Champions League headlines this season.
"We probably would have taken a 1-0 defeat beforehand," the 36-year-old told UEFA.com. "They are a strong team with a lot of pedigree, but we have every chance of progressing and we will approach the match with confidence. We don't know how the travelling will affect them. We had a couple of good chances to score and, although our goalkeeper Paul Harrison had to make a couple of great saves, we have taken a lot of positives from our performance."
It proved to be a significant night for Ruscoe as his outing as a second-half substitute was his 30th for a Welsh Premier League club in Europe, overtaking the previous record held by former Carmarthen Town AFC defender Gary Lloyd. TNS's leading appearance maker, who signed in 2002, is hoping his wealth of continental experience will help his team to a third qualifying round tie with FC Sheriff or FK Sutjeska.
"The highlight of my European football career has to be playing against Liverpool in 2005," he said. "They were the UEFA Champions League holders and we were drawn against them in the opening round of the following season's competition. As a Liverpool supporter, it really was something special."
Although TNS lost both legs 3-0, Ruscoe is not without his UEFA Champions League success stories. "The stand-out performance in Europe for me has to be the return match against Bohemians in 2010," he remembered. "We were 1-0 down from the first leg and the odds were stacked against us, but we took them by surprise to run out 4-0 winners. The performance was something very special."
Overturning the deficit against Slovan in Rhyl on Tuesday will be another test, but Ruscoe believes the squad have the know-how to make it happen. "There is a lot of European experience in our squad now," he said. "Together we have learnt how to deal with playing in Europe and the challenges that come with it – we don't have the same fear factor as less experienced sides."
Although his playing opportunities have been curtailed in recent years, Ruscoe has one European ambition left: to find the back of the net. "It's true, I have not scored in Europe yet," he explained. "I have had good games, I have had bad games. Against teams like Liverpool and Manchester City [in the 2003/04 UEFA Cup] I have barely touched the ball but run more than ever. I'm not finished yet, though."
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