FK Jagodina face a massive challenge in trying to get the better of seasoned Russian campaigners FC Rubin Kazan, but the Turkeys intend to enjoy their second stab at the UEFA Europa League.
The Serbian club have enjoyed a meteoric rise into Europe. The first ball only arrived in the city in 1906, with Jagodina's first football team, FK Zora – founded in 1919 – morphing into the current outfit in the early 1960s. After decades of anonymity, Jagodina took a huge step up in June 2009 when they won promotion to the top flight. Slowly, they have clawed their way further up the table and earned a European debut last season, which ended in a UEFA Europa League qualifying defeat by Kazakhstan's FC Ordabasy Shymkent.
This year Jagodina won their first major trophy – the Serbian Cup – to earn a second crack at it; reward, according to club president Goran Milanović, for a bit of forward planning. "About ten years ago we had a good look into the future," the Football Association of Serbia (FSS) vice-president explained. "We were optimistic and prepared a business plan. Everyone gave their all and our hard work was very positive. We will not stop here. We want to keep that spirit going. Jagodina are on the right path and we want to get higher and higher every season."
Last term's 1-0 cup final win against FK Vojvodina coupled with a fourth-place finish in the league were a benchmark of how far the Turkeys – whose nickname is a reflection of the importance of poultry farming in their home region – have come. Jagodina also boast a renovated 15,000-seater stadium with floodlights, and their stars on and off the pitch have come in for close attention, too, as they have hauled themselves up the rankings.
Simo Krunić, assistant to Javier Clemente during his time as Serbia coach, oversaw Jagodina's success last season, and was snapped up by Chinese side Dalian Shide FC in the summer. Their 19-goal top scorer in 2012/13, Miloš Stojanović, has also headed east, joining Wuhan Zall FC. In his place, Jagodina have brought in former FK Kula and FK Novi Pazar striker Sead Hadžibulić, who has hit the ground running with three goals in six pre-season friendlies.
Back for a third spell in charge, Mladen Dodić, formerly of FK Javor Ivanjica, has hopefully secured the services of one of Jagodina's other stars for a while, with Libyan left-back Mohamed El Monir remaining on board despite interest from FK Crvena zvezda, and the coach is positive. "At the moment, Jagodina's European challenge means a lot to me personally," he explained. "We have spent three weeks preparing in Bulgaria, where we played six matches, winning five. I'm satisfied with my team and their form."
However, he does not expect miracles against two-time Russian champions Rubin. "Rubin are one of the biggest clubs in Russia," said Dodić, 43. "I don't want to put any pressure on my players. The first match in Jagodina will honestly be a footballing celebration and we will give it everything. Success in this tie is something we can only dream of."
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