Neilson backs Hearts to make progress in Europa League

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Hearts returned to training last week
Hearts, who finished third the Premiership last season, returned to training five days ago

Robbie Neilson is confident that Hearts can progress on their return to European competition after four years.

The Tynecastle side will play FC Infonet of Estonia in the Europa League first qualifying round.

Hearts were drawn to play away in the opening game, but the three other Tallin-based clubs are at home that week so Infonet's tie was switched.

"It's a good draw. Hopefully we can get a result at Tynecastle, then finish it off," said head coach Neilson.

"We knew the five teams we could have got chosen against and it's a good one out of the five. It's going to be a tough game, they're in the middle of their season just now - they've played 17 games - but it's one that we're confident of winning.

"We've got a good squad here, a squad that's a bit more experienced than they were last year. They're ready, they're prepared.

"They had a short close season, four weeks, and have come back in really good condition. They're excited about playing these games and it bodes well for qualifying for the next round."

Hearts returned for pre-season training on Wednesday, 24 days after last season's league campaign ended with the Premiership play-off final second leg between Kilmarnock and Falkirk.

The players ended Monday morning's session early to watch the draw live and Neilson believes that the return to European competition is enhancing the feelgood factor around the club.

'We'll do our research'

He is also confident that he and the coaching staff will gather enough information to form a game plan, with the first leg on 30 June.

"The players watched [the draw] in the meeting room," Neilson said. "There was a bit of a excitement there, to see who we got and where we were going.

"It will be great for the fans, they've been desperate to see European football at Tynecastle again. The players are looking forward to it.

"We'll do our research, so it won't be a problem. We have Wyscout [the football video platform], so we've got all their games from this season and last season.

"We'll be watching that because we're not going to have an opportunity to go out and watch them live because they don't have a game until they play us.

"It's a great challenge for us as a staff. We've already started putting some information together and trying to get things put together so that we're ready.

If Hearts progress, they will face either Birkirkara of Malta or NK Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia.

Neilson was part of the Hearts team that faced the latter side in the Champions League qualifiers in 2006, and he says they would be tough opponents, but his focus is on the first qualifying round tie.

"We got a good result at home [against Siroki Brijeg], at Murrayfield, winning 3-0, which carried us over there to get a 0-0 that took us through," Neilson said.

"We need to take care of the first game, that's the most important one. We've got two games and only 10 days prep before it, so we need to make sure we're ready."

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