Who are The New Saints Round Two opponents HNK Rijeka?
After Tueday’s hard-fought victory against FC Europa, TNS will now face Croatian champions HNK Rijeka, but who exactly are they?
The Croatian champions awaited The New Saints in the next round after being given a bye and now they are tasked with beating the Welsh Champions.
Known as Rijeka’s Whites, HNK Rijeka were founded in 1946 and are the only team in Croatia never to have been relegated from the Croatian First League. They won their first ever Croatian League championship last season by two points to gain access into the Champions League.
The 2016-17 season was an unforgettable one for HNK Rijeka. Along with winning the Croatian First League, there were some notable results, including a 5-2 victory against Dinamo Zagreb. They also won every home game last season besides one, which they drew. They also scored 71 goals and conceded only 23 goals.
Impressively they went on a 31-game unbeaten run, something The New Saints have been close to, like their impressive World Record last season.
HNK Rijeka also have a lot of European pedigree, having appeared in the Europa League in the past 4 seasons, reaching the group stages in 2 of those 4 seasons. Last season was a disappointing one for Rijeka in Europe, being defeated by Turkish side Istanbul Başakşehir on away goals. They also have experience against Welsh sides in Europe, playing against Prestatyn Town in 2013-14, winning 8-0 on aggregate.
Rijeka’s Whites are currently managed by Matjaž Kek. The Slovenian has a lot of managerial experience, having managed the Slovenian national team for 5 years and also managed in Saudi Arabia. Kek has been in charge of HNK Rijeka since 2013, winning the Croatian First League, the Croatian Cup and the Croatian Super Cup.
Kek has assembled an impressive squad with a lot of talent. Top scorer Franko Andrijašević is a poacher, scoring 16 goals for Rijeka last season but he has since departed. Midfielder Filip Bradarić is a full Croatian international.
So far this summer they’ve brought in Héber Araujo dos Santos from Slaven Belupo, Josip Elez from Lazio, Damjan Đoković from Spezia, Tomislav Gomelt from Bari, Roberto Punčec from Union Berlin, Stefan Ristovski from Spezia and Marko Vešović from Spezia. They sold Franko Andrijašević to Belgian side Gent for €4.3 million.
Andrej Prskalo made 36 appearances for the club last season playing 3240 minutes. He managed to keep an impressive 21 clean sheets in the league last year.
HNK Rijeka will be an incredibly difficult match for TNS, but if the Saints can win this match over two legs, it may go down as the greatest result by a Welsh team in Europe.
(Featured Image: Roberta F)