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  • On Foreign Fields (8)

    It would not be until 2001 that Hibs had another taste of European football when they entered the UEFA Cup and got a really tough first round draw against AEK Athens with the first leg away from home. That first game was scheduled for 13 September but of course two days earlier the whole of the planet was in shock when terrorists engineered two planes crashing into the World Trade Centre in New York. Air travel was suddenly an option many would be wary of using but it didn’t stop hundreds of Hibs fans making their way to Greece for the UEFA tie.

    The flight I caught had landed in Athens when news filtered through that UEFA had cancelled ties out of respect for those that lost their lives at the World Trade Centre. Indeed the Hibs team were on their plane and taxiing down the runway at Edinburgh airport when they got the news and so they didn’t travel. Those of us who did reach Athens made the most of the trip and took over a city centre square as they sang and danced the nights away.

    A week later I headed once more to Athens to meet up with some fans that hadn’t even bothered to come home the week before. The Hibs support was smaller in number but still noisy inside the stadium where they were treated quite badly by the fanatical home fans and the local police force. On the pitch Hibs had to do without the injured Franck Sauzee and his absence was a real blow as the hosts ground out a 2-0 win.
    Seven days later Easter Road witnessed one of those magical European nights as Alex McLeish’s men followed his instructions to go for it big time. The noise levels were immense as Paco Luna struck twice to level the tie on aggregate and then with almost the last touch of the game he couldn’t quite stretch his neck far enough to connect with the ball right in front of goal. Had that effort gone in Luna would have been immortalised in Hibernian folklore but instead an extra time period of thirty minutes was required. Having given so much over the ninety minutes the Hibs players were running on vapours and the Greeks took advantage to strike the two goals that finally silenced the home support. Substitute David Zitelli struck a magnificent third for Hibs to win the game 3-2 but the tie was lost 4-3 on aggregate. After the match Alex McLeish said he had never been prouder as a manager and you can bet your mortgage on the fact that even in defeat every last Hibs fan at the game felt exactly the same.

    For season 2004/05 Hibs chose to enter into the Inter Toto Cup, an ill thought out tournament that offered successful sides a route into the UEFA Cup. The first tie was played in early July and Hibs were patently not ready at that stage because they’d only been back in training for a short while. Their opponents FK Vetra Vilnius of Lithuania were a number of games into their domestic season and over the two legs it showed after Hibs struggled to get a 1-1 draw at Easter Road with Garry O’Connor the scorer and then lose 1-0 in the away leg.

    A year later and a good finish in the previous season’s domestic league saw Hibs in the UEFA Cup proper with a very tough first round fixture against crack Ukrainian outfit Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. The first leg was at Easter Road and Hibs went into it on the back of four straight wins in the SPL including the memorable Sproule hat trick 3-0 win at Ibrox but they found Dnipro really hard to break down and could only manage a 0-0 draw. Two weeks later a horror show in Ukraine saw Hibs slump to a 5-1 defeat although many who made the journey to watch and many who watched the game at home on TV felt that the scoreline flattered Dnipro.

    The following season it was Inter Toto Cup time again and Hibs drew Dinaburg Daugavpils of Latvia, trouncing them 5-0 at Easter Road with goals from Killen, Brown, Sproule, Murphy and Fletcher. The return leg saw Hibs coasting through 3-0 on the night and 8-0 on aggregate. The away goals came from the so called Mali Magician Amadou Konte who got two and Ivan Sproule. That Mali Magician moniker was greatly appreciated by the Hibs fans when Konte ultimately ‘disappeared’ from the club.

    The next round offered up a much harder tie with BK Odense providing the opposition. In the away leg Hibs found the superior match fitness of their hosts telling but still managed to escape with a narrow 1-0 defeat. In the home tie with Odense centre back Uli Laursen being warmly greeted by the home support the Danes looked sharper than the hosts and although they lost 2-1 with goals from Jones and Dalglish they went through on the away goals rule.

    July 2008 took Hibs into the Inter Toto once again and for the second year in succession they met and went out to Danish opposition losing 2-0 both home and away. The point of entering that competition was lost on many as invariably it meant Hibs having to play competitive games when they’d only just begun pre season training.

    **Image courtesy of hibsprogrammes.co.uk and progs.fairleyoriginal.com**
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. HibbyDave's Avatar
      HibbyDave -
      I'm sure it's me that has missed something but didn't we play Anderlecht at somepoint?
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