Absent from continental competition for more than 20 years, Swansea City AFC are relishing the opportunity to test themselves in Europe once more as they prepare for the start of their maiden UEFA Europa League campaign.
The south Wales club qualified for the competition by winning the English League Cup, seeing off Premier League opposition in Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC before beating Bradford City AFC 5-0 in February's Wembley final. That result ended a 101-year wait for a major trophy and clinched a place in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League.
The Swans last appeared in Europe in 1991/92, when they entered the European Cup Winners' Cup having lifted the Welsh Cup. Their stay in the tournament did not last long, however, AS Monaco FC inflicting a 10-1 aggregate defeat in the first round.
It was the fifth time Swansea had succumbed at that stage of the competition, dating back to their first European expedition of 1961/62. Indeed, six of their seven continental campaigns to date – all in the Cup Winners' Cup – finished without a victory.
The exception came in 1982/83 when a Swans side that included future Wales manager John Toshack recorded impressive aggregate wins against SC Braga (3-1) and Sliema Wanderers FC (17-0) before losing to Paris Saint-Germain FC in the last 16. City supporters will hope for a similarly strong opening to this UEFA Europa League adventure, which begins on 1 August against Malmö FF at the Liberty Stadium.
Swansea winger Pablo Hernández, who featured in the Valencia CF team that reached the semi-final of the competition in 2011/12, has spoken of the anticipation felt by those at the club but warned of the threat posed by Malmö. "The Europa League is very important for the fans and everyone at the club," he said. "
We must enjoy the competition because we have played well to get here. We must get to the group stage first and then anything is possible. Malmö are a good team and are in the middle of their season. Their fitness will be good," added Hernández.
Swans manager Michael Laudrup, able to call upon a wealth of personal experience having seen European action with Juventus, FC Barcelona – with whom he landed the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1991/92 – Real Madrid CF and AFC Ajax, declared himself pleased with the draw.
"Sweden is perfect for us geographically," said the Dane. "It was important for me that we avoided a long trip and the prospect of difficult weather conditions. We also know their playing style, so that is also a positive."
Whoever their opponents, Swansea will feel confident their patient passing approach will be suited to European football. "We at Swansea like to keep the ball," said assistant manager Morten Wieghorst. "We are capable of playing that kind of game. That should stand us in good stead."
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