Slaven Bilic will take charge of West Ham for the first time when they host Lusitans in Thursday’s UEFA Europa League first round qualifying first leg.
Bilic proved to be a big fans’ favourite during his playing days at Upton Park and the Croatian returned to the club as manager earlier this month to replace Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce’s four-year reign came to an end following a Premier League season in which West Ham finished 12th, having been fourth at Christmas.
His departure was announced just minutes after a 2-0 defeat at Newcastle United on the final day of the campaign and several names were linked with the role before Bilic was appointed.
Despite ending the season with three consecutive defeats and in the bottom half of the table, West Ham can now look forward to a Europa League qualifier due to their standing in the Premier League’s Fair Play table.
Little over a month has passed since the Newcastle fixture, but West Ham’s players have a quick turnaround from their holidays.
Defender Aaron Cresswell – who signed a new five-year deal on Monday – is hoping for a strong run in Europe to mark the London club’s last season at Upton Park in style before they move to the Olympic Stadium.
“It’s the last year [at Upton Park] and it just shows you the passion from the fans, to sell 30,000 up to now for the game on Thursday,” he told West Ham’s official website.
“It’s massive the Europa League, but it’s the last year here, so hopefully we can make it a memorable one.”
West Ham have not played in Europe since the 2006-2007 season when they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup by Palermo in the first round.
The club do have fond memories of continental competition, though, having won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965 and reaching the final of the same competition in 1976.
By contrast, Andorran minnows Lusitans have never made the main draw of a UEFA competition, having twice lost in the first qualifying round of the Europa League and a further two times in Champions League qualifiers.
The match represents one of the biggest in the club’s history, and coach Xavi Roura told his players to give it their all.
“It is one of the [biggest] opportunities of our life,” he told UEFA’s official website earlier this week. “Many of our players have not had the prestige of playing an event of playing this nature.”
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