This time last year Estoril Praia were still riding the crest of a wave having won promotion to the Portuguese Liga. Now, after their best top-flight finish since 1948/49, they are readying themselves for their European debut against Hapoel Ramat Gan FC in the third qualifying round.
The club, founded in 1939 and nicknamed the 'Canários', or Canaries, because of their yellow shirts, were languishing in the second tier following relegation in 2004/05, but since Marco Silva's appointment as head coach two seasons ago they have enjoyed an upturn in fortunes.
Silva ended his playing career at the club in 2010/11 and took charge of the team for the next campaign, steering Estoril to the second division title and an impressive fifth-place finish last term which secured their place in the UEFA Europa League.
Aged 36, Silva is largely credited with building a good passing team that is solid in defence, but his and Estoril's credentials will be put to the test when they host the Israeli Cup holders on Thursday. "There is euphoria among the supporters, but we have to keep our feet on the ground," he said. "We are confident we can go through to the next stage.
"We have our ambitions in the competition, but we are only thinking about these two matches against Hapoel Ramat. We are ambitious, but we are also debutants. We don't know much about Hapoel, only that they won the cup and were relegated, but our goal is to go through."
There has been a high turnover of players since the end of last season with the likes of Steven Vitória, Jefferson, Carlos Eduardo and Licá departing, leaving Estoril with limited European know-how in their squad. However, if they are to succeed they will have to rely on the likes of Javier Balboa and Carlitos, who have UEFA Champions League experience from their time at Real Madrid CF and SL Benfica respectively.
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