While Slaviša Jokanović only promises "bravery" from FK Partizan in the UEFA Europa League, the Crno-beli's proud history suggests the likes of FC Shakhtar Donetsk can take nothing for granted.
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While the only thing FK Partizan coach Slaviša Jokanović can promise after the toughest of UEFA Europa League draws is "bravery", the Crno-beli's proud European history suggests the likes of FC Shakhtar Donetsk can take nothing for granted.
First ever game
While FK Crvena Zvezda's 1991 European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph shines like a beacon in the annals of Serbian exploits in continental competition, it is arch-rivals Partizan who boast the longest history. Partizan lined up in the first-ever match in the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1955 when they played out an entertaining 3-3 draw with Sporting Clube de Portugal, and in 2003/04 became Serbia's first contenders in the competition that followed it; the UEFA Champions League. Now, after seeing off MŠK Žilina in the play-offs, they are poised to play their part in the inaugural UEFA Europa League campaign.
"In the past two seasons we have played 16 games in European competition – that means a lot to us," said Jokanović. "Now we have set sights on continuing our campaign beyond the group stage, but we will have to be at our best if we want to progress from Group J." Indeed, last Friday's draw in Monaco paired the Superliga champions with UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar, Club Brugge KV and Toulouse FC. "Draws are like that – our opponents are the best team from last year, a big Belgian side and the strongest club in the fourth pot," rued Jokanović. "I can only promise one thing – we will be brave. Our wish is to prolong our involvement into the spring."
Those ambitions have been reconfigured since the summer, as Partizan's European adventure began in mid-July with a 12-0 aggregate second qualifying round victory over Rhyl FC in the UEFA Champions League. However, they were edged out by APOEL FC at the next stage, the "biggest pain" of a 2-1 defeat heightened as the Cypriot side went on to book a group-stage place. "We missed a big chance," admitted Jokanović. "When you play so well it is difficult to explain. We had one bad game in Nicosia and lost 2-0 after so many missed chances. But life continues; nobody will wait for us." Sadly, nor would left-back Ivan Obradović, who opted to move to Real Zaragoza, but Jokanović – who himself spent nine seasons in Spain during his gilded playing days – believes Partizan can adapt. Shakhtar, Club Brugge and Toulouse be warned: they usually do.