Trabzonspor are unlikely to know quite what is hitting them when late-goal specialists Differdange come to Turkey on Thursday; UEFA.com's man in the Grand Duchy reveals all.
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It took a 95th-minute goal in Wales for Differdange to eliminate Bala Town in the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round, but the reward for the Luxembourger Cup holders was a huge one: a meeting with Turkish side Trabzonspor. However, while not many in Turkey will have heard of 'FCD03', they have a reputation for continental prowess at home. The secret of their success? Stability, family spirit, and a little bit of luck.
Founded in 2003 in the steelworks town of Differdange, following the merger of AS Differdange and six-time national champions Red Boys, the club's focus shifted when Fabrizio Bei became president in 2006. "I have a dream – it is Europe," said the former AS Differdange and Red Boys player more recently. "You can see that I have been understood. We have been following this path for some years. This is our destiny. Every year is a fairy tale."
Battling through to the UEFA Europa League play-offs in 2011/12 was a massive success – they duly lost 6-0 on aggregate to Paris Saint-Germain, with Javier Pastore making his PSG debut at the Stade Josy Barthel in Luxembourg during that tie. Two years later, they achieved a huge coup by eliminating Dutch outfit Utrecht, and were only ousted by Tromsø on penalties in the third qualifying round.
Another first is to come: next month Differdange will become the first club to represent Luxembourg in the UEFA Futsal Cup.
Capped ten times as a midfielder for Luxembourg, Marc Thomé is Differdange through and through – his father owned a butcher's shop just a few metres from the Oberkorn Sports Park, FCD03's current home. He and club president Bei also played together in a European tie with Red Boys in 1985. "It was the Cup Winners' Cup," Bei recalled. "We lost 5-0 at home and 8-0 in Sweden against AIK Solna."
Thomé had his share of disappoinments as a player – "I finished second in the league six times," the 51-year-old recalled – but won the Luxembourger Cup in 1995 with Grevenmacher. A natural coach who loves statistics, he steered Differdange to a runners-up finish in his maiden season last time out – something they had not done in the previous six years – as well as cup success.
With an annual budget of around €1m, Differdange have excelled in creating stars of their own. Morocco forward Omar Er Rafik, 29, is one to watch; the scorer of the key late strike at Bala Town, he has notched an impressive 13 goals in his last 14 UEFA qualifying games.
French captain Philippe Lebresne has been with the club for the best part of a decade, but the 36-year-old was the only thirtysomething in the starting lineup for the Bala matches – a measure of a side that continues to bring on, and retain, talent.
How do they play?
Differdange have missed just one of the last six Luxembourger Cup finals, winning four of them. What does that tell you about them? That they have great team spirit and they are specialists in knockout ties. A lot of that family vibe comes from consistency – the team is built around of a solid spine of players who have been with the club for five years or more.
Thomé's straightforward 4-2-3-1 formation, meanwhile, comes with a sting in the tail – his side came from behind in ten of their 18 league victories last season, and specialise in late goals. "Nobody in Europe does that better than us," concluded Thomé. Trabzonspor take note.