For FK Senica, Thursday's UEFA Europa League third qualifying round second leg against FC Salzburg is quite simply the biggest game in their history.
It has been an extraordinary 12 months for Stanislav Griga and his team, but next up is perhaps their toughest task of all. After finishing sixth in the Slovakian top flight two seasons ago, they emerged as surprise contenders for the title last term, giving ŠK Slovan Bratislava a run for their money before finally settling for a runners-up spot.
Now they are just one game from reaching the UEFA Europa League play-offs, but Griga is under no illusions about the difficulty of overturning the 1-0 defeat they suffered in Austria last week. "Salzburg have better players in every position," he told UEFA.com. "We are not the favourites, but we will certainly try to do our best to please our supporters."
Senica can at least draw encouragement from an impressive 4-0 victory against league newcomers TTS Trencin on Sunday. That win lifted them back up to second place, but Griga refused to read too much into the result. "Salzburg will be a totally different proposition," he said, "but I am glad we won and that we scored so freely."
Free-scoring will be welcome on Thursday in an encounter against a side whose city of provenance is seven times larger, in terms of population, to Senica, a modest conurbation of 20,000 inhabitants in western Slovakia. More pertinently, the Austrian Bundesliga side boast a transfer budget 15 times greater than that of Senica. "The difference is huge," said Griga. "It is like us playing against a fourth division side. But if you can defend well, the difference is not so great."
Griga also suggests that his side are not as potent a force as last term, since the departure of defender Filip Lukšík to ADO Den Haag and top goalscorer Ondřej Smetana to K. Sint-Truidense VV. "It has been difficult to replace them, but on the other hand, it could be a lot worse; I am so glad that our other key players decided to stay."
Senica's squad comprises a number of overseas players including Argentinian defender Nicolas Gorosito, South African midfielder Bridget Motha, Brazilian youngsters Kaká and Bolinha and Stef Wijlaars from the Netherlands. The club's core, though, come from neighbouring Czech Republic.
After arriving on loan from Slovan Liberec last month, Jaroslav Diviš became the tenth Czech player on Senica's books. Another of those is goalkeeper Petr Bolek, who kept his side in the tie in the first leg with a string of saves to frustrate Salzburg. He is expecting another busy night on Thursday in front of a capacity crowd of 4,500 spectators. "We have to concentrate very hard at the back and then try and cause them problems," he said. "It's quite straightforward, we just need to give it a go."
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