First-time Slovakian champions in 2017/18, Spartak Trnava make their group stage debut against heavyweights Anderlecht.
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Having won the Slovakian league title for the first time in 2017/18, Spartak Trnava are poised to break more new ground with a first appearance in a UEFA competition group stage. Their opening opponents are Belgian heavyweights Anderlecht, who are embarking on a 55th successive season in Europe.
• The two teams were paired in UEFA competition in the 1972/73 European Champion Clubs' Cup second round, with Trnava, then representing Czechoslovakia, winning both legs 1-0 to advance to the quarter-finals.
• That remains Trnava's only encounter with Belgian opposition. Anderlecht faced Slovan Bratislava two years later in the first round of the same competition, advancing on away goals after a 4-2 first-leg defeat in what is now the Slovakian capital.
• Trnava's long wait for a national league title ended after 45 years when they lifted the Superliga crown last season. It earned them a first crack at the UEFA Champions League, but after beating Zrinjski and Legia Warszawa in the opening two qualifying rounds, they fell to Crvena zvezda after extra time in the third. A UEFA Europa League play-off win over Olimpija Ljubljana (2-0 away, 1-1 home) carried them into the group stage.
• The victory against Olimpija made it third time lucky for Trnava after their two previous UEFA Europa League play-off ties – against Lokomotiv Moskva in 2011/12 and FC Zürich in 2014/15 – had both ended in defeat.
• Despite their qualification for the group stage, Trnava have not won in their last three European home fixtures. Indeed, from the third qualifying round onwards the club have not registered a home victory in eight matches (D4 L4) – a run stretching back seven years.
• Third in Belgium last term behind Club Brugge and Standard Liège, Anderlecht's European reward was automatic qualification for the UEFA Europa League group stage.
• The Brussels club are competing at this juncture of the competition for the sixth time and have never failed to progress to the knockout phase, reaching the quarter-finals on their most recent participation, in 2016/17. On the only previous occasion they opened their group stage campaign away, in 2009/10, they won 2-0 at Dinamo Zagreb.
• Anderlecht won 1-0 at Celtic in their last European fixture, ending a run of six successive defeats. They are unbeaten, however, in their last four away fixtures in the UEFA Europa League group stage (W2 D2), contributing to an overall record of W7 D4 L4.
Links and trivia
• Trnava coach Radoslav Látal has a positive experience against Anderlecht, having been in the Schalke side – then the holders – who eliminated the Brussels outfit from the UEFA Cup second round in 1997/98, winning both matches (home 1-0, away 2-1).
• A member of the Czech Republic side that reached the final of EURO '96, Radoslav Látal won the UEFA Cup with Schalke a year later and went on to compete in a second UEFA European Championship in 2000. The right-sided midfielder ended his playing career with league and cup successes for Baník Ostrava, but was less successful there in a short stint as a coach, prompting spells in Slovakia, Poland and Belarus before he took over at newly-crowned Slovak champions Spartak Trnava in June 2018.
• After a successful three-year spell with Gent, during which he led the club to their first Belgian title, in 2014/15, and into the UEFA Champions League round of 16 the following season, Hein Vanhaezebrouck was appointed as Anderlecht boss in October 2017, succeeding René Weiler. He first established his coaching credentials during two spells in the dugout of home-town club Kortrijk, whom he had also represented during a modest playing career.