Esbjerg fB may have registered one of the shock results of the UEFA Europa League play-off first legs with their 4-3 defeat of AS Saint-Étienne, yet coach Niels Frederiksen insists that Les Verts remain favourites to reach the group stage, saying Thursday's encounter in France will be a "completely different experience" for his young team.
A crowd of 11,478 witnessed a UEFA Europa League fixture steeped in drama last week. Three times St-Etienne took the lead, but on each occasion Esbjerg equalised, setting the scene for Peter Ankersen to score the winner with ten minutes left and seal a memorable win. If fans were pinching themselves in disbelief, they had good reason to – after all, their side were playing second-tier football less than 18 months ago.
For the team from western Denmark, victory over St-Etienne continued the momentum that has been building since their return to the top flight in 2012. Not only did they win the Danish Cup last term, they also finished fifth in the Superligaen.
"The experience was the same for me as for everyone else in the stadium," Frederiksen told UEFA.com about last Thursday's game. "We went through the whole gamut of emotions – from joy and excitement to frustration, and then back to excitement again – before it all ended well.
"However, because no one really expected much from us beforehand, it was an experience you could fully enjoy and the atmosphere in the stadium was simply fantastic," added Frederiksen, who expects the home supporters at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard to create another impressive atmosphere. Indeed he knows his players' character and composure will be closely examined.
"We have a young team with players who do not have much experience of this kind of match," he said. "I am a little anxious to see how they react to the pressure we will be put under, not least from the crowd. I expect the first 15 to 20 minutes to be pretty decisive.
"Of course, our chances of qualifying for the group stage have grown through our win in the first match," continued Frederiksen, who took charge of Esbjerg this summer. "It would have been almost impossible to go to France with a draw or even a defeat as our starting point. I still see St-Etienne as favourites, but I definitely also see some possibilities for us. There is no doubt that they will have learned from the first match, but we have learned a few things, too."
The presence of captain Hans Henrik Andreasen, a scorer in the first leg, would certainly help but the midfielder broke a toe last week and, while he will travel with the squad on Wednesday, it is not known whether the 34-year-old will be fit to lead Esbjerg out or not.
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