In the Croatian fourth tier as recently as 2007/08, RNK Split will make their second foray into UEFA Europa League qualifying in four seasons when they host Armenia's FC Mika on Thursday. "It's a big success for us, a big challenge and motivation," said board member Jozo Žužul.
The Dalmatian club's ascension through the divisions came after they endured the pain of bankruptcy in 1999/2000. A period of reorganisation and consolidation followed until the Reds embarked on three successive promotions, reaching the top flight in 2010/11 and earning a first shot at European competition via a third-place finish in their debut season among Croatia's elite.
While their continental campaign was short-lived – they lost 2-0 on aggregate to Fulham FC in the 2011/12 second qualifying round after eliminating NK Domžale − the Adriatic side remained a consistent presence in the upper echelons of the Prva Liga and their fourth-place achievement last term meant a club delegation were present once again for the first European draws of the season last Monday.
"To be in Nyon and watch our club in the Europa League draw is a wonderful feeling – this is the house of European football after all," said Žužul. "We are in the competition for the second time in four seasons. It's a big success for us, a big challenge and motivation. Mika will be difficult opposition. We can't underestimate them but we believe we will go through."
Slaven, his brother and club president, added: "We have a lot of work to do. European competition is a big challenge and we also have the domestic cup and league. Our ambitions are still high and we will be looking for hard work and effort from every player."
RNK remain firmly in the shadow of their famous city rivals and 1995 UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists HNK Hajduk Split, who they have yet to finish above since making the step up to the Prva Liga. Optimism, though, is high that this maybe the season that changes, with coach Ivan Matić confident their influx of signings from a year ago have bedded in and found their feet.
"Our preparations and warm-up matches are giving us hope for some good results this season," he said. "Fourth place last term was a success, but as many new players arrived last year they took some time to adjust to the rest of the squad. Now the team is stabilised and, of course, we want to take a step forward."
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