After rising through the divisions for a decade, Asteras Tripolis FC are ready to make a breakthrough in Europe, with 1. FSV Mainz 05 the next side in their way.
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Ten years ago, in the summer of 2004, Asteras Tripolis FC were preparing for yet another season in Greece's fourth division. A year on they gearing up for their first experience in the third and 12 months later were ready to tackle the second tier. Now, after a decade of success culminated with another top-five Super League finish, the club are once again competing in Europe.
The Arcadian outfit have gone from strength to strength since achieving promotion to the top flight in 2007, finishing fourth, fourth and fifth in each of the last three seasons to earn a place in the UEFA Europa League. They failed to win a game in either of their previous continental campaigns, falling in the third qualifying round both times. This year they are determined to go further.
"It was about time – it took us eight European matches to celebrate our first victory," midfielder Pablo De Blasis told UEFA.com after Asteras had realised their first aim, breaking their winning duck with a 4-2 defeat of RoPS Rovaniemi in the second qualifying round. "A shot against the woodwork deprived us of victory in Finland in the first leg, but we were able to achieve it in front of our fans."
"We had a lapse of concentration after the interval and made things tough on ourselves," added De Blasis, RoPS having restored parity after being 2-0 down. "After our opponents equalised, we reacted as we should, played good football and got a deserved victory."
The Argentinian forward has been key to the Peloponnese team since signing in 2012 from Club Gimnasia y Esgrima in his homeland and has set out some ambitious targets for the upcoming campaign.
"Our goal is to maintain our place among the top five, participate again in the league play-offs and remain the best Greek provincial team [outside of Athens and Thessaloniki]," he said. "I also hope that we can go all the way to the Greek Cup final again and it would be nice to make it to the UEFA Europa League group stage. We know it is a long way to get there and we must take it one step at a time."
The next hurdle to overcome en route to the group stage is 1. FSV Mainz 05, who finished seventh in the Bundesliga last season. "Mainz are a typical German side – they rely on their team work and excellent physical condition," said De Blasis, one of seven Argentinians in Staikos Vergetis's squad. "They are tactically astute and move incessantly on the pitch. We need maximum concentration and to be alert in order to get a positive result in Germany and entertain hope of qualifying for the play-offs."
De Blasis attributes Asteras Tripolis's success to "good players and very tough work in training" overseen by Vergetis, 37, who has been at the club for eight years. "He knows everything about Asteras, the players, what he can get from us and what the team needs."