Jan Breydelstadion - Bruges 19/09/2013 - 19:00CET (19:00 local time)

Group stage - Group D

Zulte Waregem - Wigan
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Zulte Waregem - Wigan 0-0 - 19/09/2013 - Match page - UEFA Europa League 2014

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Europe beckons for Wigan's unlikely lads

Published: Tuesday 17 September 2013, 8.52CET
Four months after shocking Manchester City FC in the FA Cup final, Wigan Athletic FC are writing a new chapter in their history as they embark on a first European campaign.
by Simon Hart
Europe beckons for Wigan's unlikely lads
Wigan lift the FA Cup in May ©Getty Images
 

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Standings

Last updated: 20/09/2013 01:36 CET

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Published: Tuesday 17 September 2013, 8.52CET

Europe beckons for Wigan's unlikely lads

Four months after shocking Manchester City FC in the FA Cup final, Wigan Athletic FC are writing a new chapter in their history as they embark on a first European campaign.

It is only four months since the greatest day in the history of Wigan Athletic FC, the day they beat Manchester City FC 1-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their first major trophy, yet it somehow feels much longer.

That historic triumph in the Wembley rain, the biggest FA Cup final upset in a quarter of a century, turned out to be the end of an era for the Lancashire club. Their eight-year stay in the Premier League ended with a defeat at Arsenal FC three days later and before long manager Roberto Martínez had departed for Everton FC, soon to be followed by four of his old players.

Owen Coyle duly stepped into the Spaniard's shoes and an entire team's worth of new faces have passed through the entrance door this summer, yet as the new manager looks to find a winning blend in the Championship, there remains one significant Wembley spin-off for this modest club to savour: after all, Martínez did not just leave Wigan with their first silverware but also a ticket to their first European adventure.

Wigan are the only side who kick off the UEFA Europa League group stage having never played a single game in continental competition and their first test comes in Belgium on Thursday against SV Zulte Waregem, with Group D home matches against NK Maribor and FC Rubin Kazan to follow.

For a club which only entered the English league pyramid in 1978, but flourished subsequently under the stewardship of local businessman Dave Whelan, it is something to savour. As Whelan himself said after qualification for Europe was secured last season: "It is somewhere you think you will never ever get to – apart from holidays in Majorca."

"I think regardless of who we were going to play it was going to be exciting, and it certainly turned out that way," said Coyle, his manager, when assessing Group D. "Rubin Kazan as you know did consistently very well in Europe. Maribor have got a good name in Europe and obviously Zulte Waregem is a team I know well from Belgium because they’ve got some very good players.

"There's some tough games but ones that as a football club, we're looking forward to," added the Scot, whose only previous taste of Europe came as a player in the Airdrieonians FC side beaten home and away by AC Sparta Praha in the 1992/93 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round.

Fortunately, Coyle can call on some players with rather more experience. Indeed Wigan have a UEFA Champions League winner in their ranks in goalkeeper Scott Carson, who was on the Liverpool FC bench on the night of their famed 2005 final comeback against AC Milan in Istanbul.

Carson, back in England after two seasons with Bursaspor, is one of half a dozen players who have played in Europe's elite competition, including Nick Powell, the 19-year-old loanee from Manchester United FC who appeared twice in last term's group stage. This seam of experience may surprise some – and it could well help the FA Cup heroes spring some further surprises.

Last updated: 18/09/13 20.26CET

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