The 'Black-and-White Stars' of ND Mura 05 are enjoying an exceptional season in the UEFA Europa League, despite seasons of struggle off the pitch.
Following a goalless draw against PFC CSKA Sofia last week, the club from Murska Sobota, in the far east of Slovenia, drew 1-1 in the Bulgarian capital, winning the tie by virtue of another goal from Nusmir Fajić. The Bosnian striker scored 20 in the league last season, and is already off the mark in the new campaign, having scored both at domestic level and in the elimination of FK Bakı in the first qualifying round.
"The credit for this great success really belongs to everyone who is here," said the club's 41-year-old coach Franc Cifer. "Not just the players, but all the others who are trying to do their best for our small club. We knew how to play against CSKA Sofia and after going 1-0 down I was sure that we could equalise and go through. In the end, we could have had more – we had a couple of chances to win in Sofia."
A barbecue in Murska Sobota is planned to celebrate the result, with Cifer and his players set to mingle with supporters. That sense of togetherness has been forged in part in adversity. The current club rose from the ashes of NK Mura, the club Cifer represented as a defender who were dissolved in 2004 due to financial problems. The new club emerged in 2005, but money remains tight.
Thus it was a surprise when they finished third in the league last season, behind the relatively wealthy NK Maribor and NK Olimpija Ljubljana. For Cifer, it is testament to the team's modest virtues. "Our aim is always the same: strong cooperation in defence, a very organised midfield and a clinical attack. Simple. Fabijan Cipot commands the defence with Nusmir Fajić and Mate Eterović our strongest forces up front."
This weekend, Maribor come to Murska Sobota for Mura's biggest game of the season so far, and then they can look forward to a trip to Ukraine, where they will meet FC Arsenal Kyiv in the third qualifying round opener on Thursday. The return fixture will then be played 30km from Murska Sobota in Lendava, since Mura's home stadium is not ready for UEFA fixtures.
The schedule may be daunting, but Cifer sees no reason to be cowed. "Nothing will change in our team," he said. "Of course, the Ukrainian side are not invincible either."
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