Having reached the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals last season, their first taste of continental competition in nearly two decades, Hannover 96 begin their bid to better that run on Thursday in the third qualifying round against Saint Patrick's Athletic FC.
Coach Mirko Slomka, his players and the fans embraced the European experience and ahead of the first leg in the Republic of Ireland he explains how Die Roten are "ready to have another go", discusses pre-season and looks forward to the 50th Bundesliga campaign, which starts next month.
UEFA.com: You turned a lot of heads in the UEFA Europa League last season. The club and the fans had fun in the competition. Hannover and Europe, they go well together, don't they?
Mirko Slomka: They do. We felt the hairs on the back of our necks stand up, much like the fans did. The play-off win against Sevilla, the 2-1 victory in Copenhagen in front of 10,000 Hannover fans, the enthralling home matches with sell-out crowds. The team had a lot of support, basically the whole city. We all soaked it up and enjoyed it to the maximum, and now we're ready to have another go.
UEFA.com: Last year it fell apart in the quarter-finals against eventual winners Club Atlético de Madrid. Is that the target this time round, a run to the knockout stage?
Slomka: Atlético were the strongest team in the tournament with stars like Falcao and Diego, but both times we only lost by a narrow margin. Our aim is the group phase and we have to get through the third qualifying round and then the play-offs to get there. The route is longer than last year, but we have a team who are hungry to repeat what we achieved last season.
UEFA.com: How happy are you with the way your pre-season has progressed?
Slomka: We're working well and keeping our focus. The only things that have irritated me are the defeats by Hertha Berlin and third division team Preußen Münster, because they were completely avoidable. In the end these losses help you to work with even more focus.
UEFA.com: How are the new arrivals – Hiroki Sakai, Adrian Nikci and Felipe – faring?
Slomka: Our three new players are unavailable to play at the moment for different reasons. Hiroki Sakai got to know his team-mates for a few days but he's now playing at the Olympics in London. Adrian Nikci and Felipe have had injuries so have missed a few days of the build-up to the new season, but I'm convinced they will all be able to strengthen the squad with their quality.
UEFA.com: What is the atmosphere like in the squad?
Slomka: Very good. We've sold around 25,000 season tickets, more than ever before. We've got two good seasons behind us, having finished fourth and seventh, and we've qualified for the Europa League again. We experienced some fantastic nights of European football last season. It leaves us wanting more and we'll go into the 50th season of the Bundesliga highly motivated and full of optimism.
UEFA.com: Before you start chasing points in the Bundesliga, there is the first round of the German Cup to navigate. What do you hope to get out of the competition?
Slomka: Hannover have played just four cup games in the last three seasons – that says it all. I love the DFB Cup. Of course the draw makes a big difference, but this season it's definitely a goal for us to still be in the competition come winter.
UEFA.com: You finished seventh last term. What are your intentions this season?
Slomka: Like last time, we want to confirm that we're a good side and be in the top half of the table. Last season we were never lower than ninth place for all 34 games. We've qualified for European competition two years in a row, so we don't want to lose sight of the qualification places, although the competition is strong.
UEFA.com: Who will win the league and which team could be the surprise package this season?
Slomka: My tip is Bayern München, but Borussia Dortmund are at a similar level. It could be a scrap right until the end. Hoffenheim have bought well and really demonstrated their ambitions. They've got big plans.
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