Tomorrow night Blues start their European adventure in the Estadio de Madeira against Nacional. But what do we know about them and how tough a trip will it prove to be.
To be honest when the draw was made I will admit that my total knowledge of them amounted to “Erm, I think they are Portuguese” but since then I have done my research and this is what I have learnt. They were formed in 1910 but have only recently become a regular fixture in the top division claiming their Europa Cup spot with a 6th place finish last year. They were some forty points behind league champions Porto though. This will be their third European campaign although they have only made the group stages on one previous occasion.
The most famous ex-player is Cristiano Ronaldo who was there as a youngster and after whom they have named their academy centre. There are no names of an equivalent stature in the current squad. They entered the competition in the 2nd qualifying round and have so far beaten FH Hafnarfjördur of Iceland (3-1 on agg.) and BK Häcken of Sweden (4-2 on agg.) The Portuguese League season has not started yet so those remain the only competitive fixtures they have played. That may give us a slight advantage.
They are a small club with attendances around 3000 but I expect that this competition will mean as much to them as us and they will be a tough test at home. In previous campaigns they have beaten Zenit St Petersburg and Austria Vienna and were only narrowly defeated by Werder Bremen on their home patch. I expect them to be well organised and it will be difficult for us to get an away goal that could be crucial.
The team news is that Jordon Mutch has joined the three injured strikers (Jerome, Zigic and King) on the side-lines but Scott Dann has travelled with the squad. Hopefully he will play as a good defensive performance will be needed to ensure we are still in touch for the second leg. There looks like being a good crowd for the home match so we need to make sure there is only at most one goal in it. An away goal would be priceless but I’d take 0-0. Then we can rely on our home form to take us through like we did in the Carling Cup semi. I don’t expect us to go far in the competition, making the group stages will be seen as a success and will guarantee us a minimum of six more European nights.
C’mon you Blue Boys!