|I||Sparta Praha||H. Kiryat Shmona|
Back in the UEFA Europa League group stage for a second successive season, Hannover 96 sit pretty at the top of Group L after two games. Their 2-2 draw at FC Twente on matchday one was followed by a 2-1 victory over Levante UD, with back-to-back fixtures against Helsingborgs IF now in store. Handily placed in sixth in the Bundesliga, Hannover's impressive progress under Mirko Slomka continues apace – and UEFA.com spoke to the 45-year-old coach ahead of his side's trip to Sweden.
UEFA.com: How do you think you will fare in the two matches against Helsingborg?
Mirko Slomka: They are extremely important games in terms of the group and qualification. We are in an even group, so every point counts. That is why it was so important to take a point away to Twente. We go into every game wanting to win. That is also our goal on Thursday in Sweden, so we can improve our situation. After that we will turn our attention to the home match on 8 November.
UEFA.com: What must the team improve on against Helsingborg?
Slomka: From my point of view, the point in the Netherlands and the win against Levante were deserved, because my team kept pushing despite going behind [in each game]. It will be important to be organised, to be alert and to be committed in defence. We must also create our own chances. I hope we can keep a clean sheet too.
UEFA.com: Will you pick the same team in the Europa League as you did in the Bundesliga, or will there be fundamental changes?
Slomka: Every game is different but that has nothing to do with the competition. European games tend to require slightly more intensive preparation in order to note your opponents' strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, we still want to bring our own strengths into every encounter.
UEFA.com: How do you motivate your team before an important game like this?
Slomka: Our players are motivated before every match. The Europa League has a fascinating charm about it as well. Our team and our great fans love this competition. On Thursday alone, over 3,000 fans will travel with us to show their support. This is outstanding and something that will definitely encourage us. Unfortunately we will be without Karim Haggui, who is suspended after picking up a red card against Levante.
UEFA.com: Who are the key players who can take the team forward in the UEFA Europa League?
Slomka: It's not about individual players. Everyone's performances and individual strengths are important for the team. [Goalkeeper] Ron-Robert Zieler, for example, secured the points for us in Enschede [against Twente] and against Levante with some great saves in the last few minutes. But I don't want to highlight any one player because our successes are team performances and everyone in this squad has the potential to decide a match with a moment of quality.
UEFA.com: Do you think Hannover can take the leap into the UEFA Champions League in the next few years?
Slomka: Easy does it. We've managed to get into the Europa League for the second time and have made the group stage two years in a row. That is remarkable for Hannover 96. In the long term, we want to be in the top half of the Bundesliga and among the best teams in Germany. Our development is by no means over. That's why we need to continue working with motivation and ambition.
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