We’re another step closer to knowing Fiorentina’s opponents in the Europa Conference League play-off round. After the preliminary draw gave us eight possible teams, the general consensus was that FC Twente would be the toughest one to get. So, unsurprisingly UEFA decided to draw us against the winners of FK Čukarički and Twente.
The first leg will take place in Florence on August 18th, with Fiorentina then travelling to either Serbia or Holland for the return leg a week later. We won’t know who the visitors to the Stadio Franchi will be until a week before the game, as the Third Qualifying round will conclude on August 11th when Twente will host Čukarički at their De Grolsch Veste stadium in Enschede.
We may, however, have a better idea of which team we will face after the first leg of that tie takes place this Thursday night at 8pm CET. The game will be shown live, in both Serbia on RTS 2 and in Holland on RTL 7. That game will take place at the Partizan Stadium in Belgrade, as Čukarički’s home ground with a capacity of just over 4,000 is unsuitable for this stage of the competition, but the club’s fans haven’t too far the travel, as it’s just a 15-minute drive across the city.
Twente are entering the competition at this stage, while Čukarički have already come through the second qualifying round to get here. That last round saw them easily dispatch the Luxembourg club, Racing Union. Union had only finished in seventh place in the Luxembourg National Division, but they beat league champions Dudelange in the cup final to earn their place in Europe. For the first leg, Racing were forced to move the game to their country’s national stadium, even if a crowd of less than 900 turned out to watch it on July 21st.
After 20 minutes of action, Union had managed to pull level after going behind to a Stefan Kovač goal. The Serbians proved too strong however, and after regaining their lead before the break, they added another two after the interval to run out 4-1 winners and all but wrap up qualification for the next round. A week later Union travelled to Belgrade, where just over one thousand fans were at the Čukarički stadium. The home side again scored two in each half, this time without reply, as they ran up an 8-1 aggregate score line. Their new signing, Gambian forward Muhammed Badamosi scored twice in that win, having only managed to find the net once in his previous two seasons at Belgian club Kortrijk.
Still only 23-years-old, Badamosi has obviously settled in well to live in Serbia, netting five goals in his first six games for his new club. Another new signing who scored in the home leg against Union was Đorđe Ivanović. The 26-year-old can operate as either a centre forward or as an attacking left winger and has also scored twice in his first four league games at Čukarički. The former Partizan player has experience of playing in Belarus and Slovenia and was on loan at Maribor last season where he netted four goals in 16 league appearances.
Čukarički will need the goals of both Badamosi and Ivanović having sold their top three scorers from last season, and so far they have responded well to the challenge. It wasn’t the greatest of starts to the season for new manager Dušan Kerkez, with a 4-1 home defeat to FK TSC on the opening day, but they have won all five games since then. That includes the two European wins, plus three victories on the trot in the league which sees them in third place. They sit just a point behind Vojvodina, with reigning champions Red Star a further two points ahead.
Although FK Čukarički are as old as Fiorentina, formed in 1926, they spent many decades playing mainly in the lower amateur leagues. Their first ever appearance in the Yugoslavian top division didn’t come until 1995 when they finally got to mix it with their prestigious neighbours Red Star and Partizan. It was a successful debut as the club qualified for the Intertoto Cup, although the step up to European competition may have come too soon as they lost all four group games. They were back in the same competition the following season and this time managed to win two of their matches. This would be the end of their European adventures until 2014.
The club survived in the top flight to compete in the final running of the Yugoslavian league but were relegated in the first season of the new Serbia-Montenegro championship. They bounced up and down for a few seasons, at a time when Aleksandar Kolarov began his senior career with the club, before returning to the Serbian top division in 2007. The 2010/11 season proved to be disastrous as they went the whole league campaign without recording a single win, earning just five points from 30 games, and unsurprisingly finishing bottom of the table and relegated. The following season they narrowly avoid dropping down to the third tier, but they were then taken over by ADOC, a construction and wholesale company, becoming the first Serbian club to be privatised.
In 2013 they won promotion back to the top division and a fifth-place finish saw them return to European competition. They followed that with two third place finishes meaning they appeared in the Europa League for three successive seasons. During the 2015/16 season, they suffered a 7-2 defeat at the hands of champions Red Star Belgrade in the league, and the final goal of that thrashing was scored by Luka Jović who had come on as a substitute seven minutes earlier. Later that same season, in March 2016 Nikola Milenković sat on the bench for Partizan when they faced Čukarički away. He didn’t make the pitch that day but did make his Partizan senior debut a few weeks later.
His second appearance for the club came in another game against Čukarički, but he only lasted 30 minutes on the pitch. The score was 1-1 at the time, after former Fiorentina striker Valeri Bojinov had pulled Partizan level. Then came Nikola’s moment of madness, when a bad foul on Petar Bojić brought a straight red card and a three-match suspension. Milenković returned to the side for the final two games of the season, and on the last day he scored his first goal for Partizan.
Čukarički returned to the Europa League in 2019, and on all four occasions they made it past the first qualifying round only to be eliminated at the next hurdle. The four teams to knock them out in the Europa League were Grödig of Austria, Gabala from Azerbaijan, Hungarian club Videoton, and Molde from Norway. The last two seasons saw them again finish third, as they qualified for the first two editions of the Europa Conference League. Last season, just like this season, they entered at the second qualifying round stage where they eliminated Sumgayit. After a scoreless draw in Belgrade, they went to Azerbaijan and two first half goals were enough to see them through.
Just as before, the next stage saw them knocked out. A 3-1 win at home to Hammarby IF looked a decent result to take to Stockholm. Marko Docić, who has been at the club since 2016 scored twice in that game, but in Sweden they were 3-0 down by half time. They did pull a goal back to level the tie on aggregate, but Hammarby went on to win 5-1, and now Čukarički are looking to break the curse of failing to get through two stages in Europe.
To do so they will need to get past FC Twente, a team making a return to European competition for the first time since 2014. The 2014/15 Europa League would see Fiorentina reach the semi-finals having entered the competition at the Group Stage. While Čukarički had already gone out in the second qualifying round, Twente began their adventure at the play-off stage. That’s also where the adventure ended, as they lost out on the old away goal rule to Qarabağ.
Twente soon found themselves in trouble with both the Dutch football authorities and UEFA. In December 2015 they received a three-year ban from European competition, having falsely obtained a licence to play in Europe in that 2014/15 season. They also risked exclusion from the Eredivisie, over their involvement with an investment company which handed over control of the club’s transfer dealings. They had already been handed a three point deduction in the league in the 2015/16 season, and at the end of that season their licence was revoked by the KNVB which meant relegation from the top tier but they survived after winning their appeal.
Relegation wasn’t long in coming though, as the 2017/18 season saw them finish bottom of the table with just five wins all season. This was the first time since 1983 that Twente would not compete in the top division. A tragic fall from grace for a side which had won its first ever league title in 2010, with Steve McClaren leading the club to a one point win over Ajax. Twente had been runners-up the previous season, and also the season following their league title. They also won the cup in 2010/11, those few seasons being a real golden period for the club. The only other time which could compare was back in the Seventies.
The club had only been in existence since 1965, when two clubs from the city of Enschede merged. Sportclub Enschede already had a league title to their name, winning the Dutch league in 1926. The new Eredivisie was formed in 1956 and SC were one of the top clubs at the time. In the second edition of the new league they ended up contesting a play-off for the title, having finished level on points with DOS (which would become FC Utrecht), but they lost out 1-0 after extra-time.
When they hit financial trouble they joined forced with Enschedese Boys, who were also in difficulty, and the city of Enschede was only prepared to help one club. De Boys came from a more working class background and there had been a long and bitter rivalry in the city between the two clubs, and while the professional clubs came together to form FC Twente, both also continued separately as amateur outfits.
The new club managed to survive the first few seasons in the top division, and by 1969 they reached as high as third place. Ending the season behind Feyenoord and Ajax saw them qualify for the old Fairs Cup, bringing European football to the city for the first time. A crowd of 18,000 came to the Stadion Het Diekman to watch them take on French side FC Rouen, and although they won 1-0, they had already lost 2-0 in France. The city had built the stadium in the Fifties and had already tried to get the city’s clubs to merge, which also included VV Rigtersbleek. The ground is no more, as it was demolished in 1998 when Twente’s new stadium was built.
The following season, 1970/71, saw Twente again appear in the Fairs Cup. In the opening round, while Fiorentina knocked out Polish side Ruch Chorzów, Twente defeated AEK Athens 4-0 on aggregate. The next round Fiorentina bowed out to Cologne, as Twente took on Eskişehirspor. The first leg in Turkey saw them lose to a late goal, but the 3-2 result gave them hope for the return game. In Enschede a week later, they ran out 6-1 winners, with local player Jan Jeuring scoring a hat-trick.
Jeuring would spend his whole career at his hometown club and is still Twente’s second highest goal scorer of all time. Jeuring also scored in the next round, when after a 2-2 draw in Zagreb, he scored the only goal of the second leg to get past Dinamo. They had now made it to the quarterfinals, where they would face Juventus.
To give an idea of the strength of the Fairs Cup at the time, there were three English sides still in the competition, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Leeds United, along with Bayern Munich. This was January 1971, and just three days before Juventus hosted Twente, they had defeated Fiorentina in Florence. With Fiorentina struggling, in the days following that loss Bruno Pesaola was sacked, less than two years after leading the club to their second Scudetto.
Twente meanwhile were on their way to Italy, but they were forced to land in Genoa due to fog and travel by bus to Turin. Around 500 fans also travelled to support them, and as well as Jeuring, the side also contained twin brothers Willy and Reinier van de Kerkhof. Both brothers went on to be a part of the Dutch squad which reached the World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978.
In what was a heated contest, Juventus came out 2-0 winners. Their goals came from Helmut Haller and Adriano Novellini. After the game Haller accused his marker Kalle Oranen of threatening to put him in hospital in the return leg. Haller wouldn’t be in Enschede for the away game to find out if Oranen was bluffing or not. There were clashes on the field, and both sets of players also came close to blows in the tunnel after the game. While the Dutch side accused the referee of a terrible performance, the Italian press believed that the result would be enough to see Juventus through to the semi-final.
For the return leg in Enschede a crowd of 25,000 was expected, but 5,000 of these would be Juventus fans, mostly Italian emigrants working in the Netherlands and nearby Germany. Even the FIFA President Stanley Rous would be there for the eagerly anticipated second game, which was expected to be a real battle after how the first game ended.
The tension could also be felt in the crowd before the game, and a driver with the Juventus team was injured in a stabbing incident. Twente started strongly and after just ten minutes they had already pulled a goal back thanks to Theo Pahlplatz. Shortly after the interval the home side had cancelled out Juve’s two goal advantage from the first leg when club captain Epi Drost beat Roberto Tancredi.
Twente were unable to find the winner and by the time the game went to extra-time they had run out of gas. Two goals from Pietro Anastasi got Juventus out of jail, and Twente were out. The Dutch side would have to wait for their revenge, but not too long.
In 1972/73 they were in Europe again, and the Fairs Cup had now become the UEFA Cup. They overcame Dinamo Tbilisi in the opening round having lost the first leg in Georgia, with Jeuring scoring three goals over the two games. He scored twice as many in the next round, when BK Frem of Denmark were trounced 9-0 on aggregate, with Jeuring scoring the first four goals in the 5-0 first leg win in Copenhagen.
Las Palmas were Twente’s next victims which took them through to face OFK Beograd in the quarter-finals. Twente lost the first leg in Belgrade, where Dino Zec scored a hat-trick in the home side’s 3-2 win. Back in Enschede for the return leg, it was the reliable Jan Jeuring who scored twice to take them to a semi-final clash with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
A 3-0 defeat in the away leg was too much to overturn and Twente also lost 2-1 at home. The following season, 1973/74, Twente again took part in the UEFA Cup, knocking out Scottish side Dundee 7-3 on aggregate, and after a 1-1 draw in Greece they hammered Panachaiki 7-0 in the second leg. Theo Pahlplatz scored four of the goals, a result all the more incredible as all seven goals came in the second half. The adventure ended in the third round at the hands of English side Ipswich. They did finish as runners-up in the league that season, ahead of Ajax and just two points behind Feyenoord.
1974/75, a major season in the history of Twente, and in the opening round of the UEFA Cup they were up against Ipswich again. After two drawn games, the English club, managed by Bobby Robson, went out on away goals. Twente won both legs against Racing Molenbeek of Belgium, but in the third round they suffered a 3-1 defeat away to Dukla Prague in the first leg. On December 11th in Enschede, Johan Zuidema scored a hat-trick as Twente ran out 5-0 winners, on the same night as Juventus scraped through on away goals in Amsterdam against Ajax. The two clubs avoided each other in the quarter-final draw, and Twente needed to overcome another first leg away defeat before getting the better of Velež Mostar.
Juventus saw off Hamburg, and now the stage was set for a semi final clash between the enemy clubs. Juventus would travel to Enschede in April for the first leg, and at the time were on the way to their third Scudetto success in four seasons. It had been four years since the two clubs had last done battle, but the memory was still fresh to make this another tie which generated great interest. Back in Italy, the game in Enschede would be broadcast live on television.
Juventus would face a player they had already met when they defeated Ajax earlier in the competition, as Arnold Mühren had since joined Twente. He had already won the European Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup with Ajax, and would later win the UEFA Cup with Ipswich, he also played with Manchester United and was in the Dutch team which won the European Championships in 1988.
Jeuring opened the scoring and Zuidema scored twice as Twente won the first leg 3-1, Altafini’s goal giving Juventus some hope for the return leg in Turin. Twente dashed any hopes Juventus had of pulling off a comeback when Zuidema scored after ten minutes. That turned out to be the only goal of the game as Twente reached the final while the Juventus fans tried to invade the pitch after the game.
The Dutch side had another chance for revenge in the final when they came up against Mönchengladbach. The final was played over two legs and Twente came away from Germany with a scoreless draw. Two weeks later it was a much different story in Enschede, as Borussia strolled to a 5-1 win, with Jupp Heynckes scoring a hat-trick.
In between the two legs of the UEFA Cup final, Twente had also lost the domestic cup final to FC Den Haag. They did win the Dutch Cup in 1977 giving them a return to European action. In 1977/78 they took part in the Cup Winners’ Cup, knocking out Glasgow Rangers in the opening round and going on to reach the semi-final. They lost both legs to Anderlecht who went on to lift the trophy after a 4-0 win over Austria Wien. They were back in the UEFA Cup the following season but fell at the first hurdle to Manchester City. The same season they contested the KNVB Cup final but lost to Ajax in a replay, but still qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup as Ajax had also won the league. They were again knocked out in the first round, going down to Greek side Panionios.
1980/81 and they were again in Europe but went out of the UEFA Cup to Dynamo Dresden in the second round. The next couple of seasons saw them slip down the table and missing out on European action, and in 1983 came their first ever relegation. It wasn’t until 1989 that they made their return to Europe but went out in the first round to Club Brugge and fell at the same hurdle against Bayern Leverkusen the following season. After another few seasons out of Europe they returned in 1993 but again faced an early exit. They pushed Bayern all the way in their home leg, losing out 4-3 to a last minute goal but in Munich a 3-0 defeat saw them out again. It was the same story next season, the 1994/95 UEFA Cup saw Twente lose 4-1 at home to Kispesti Honved and though they almost pulled off a miracle comeback in Hungary, a 3-1 win wasn’t enough to keep them in the competition.
Another couple of seasons out of Europe followed before they returned in 1997/98. They again suffered a home defeat in the first leg, going down 1-0 to Lillestrom, but in Oslo a last-minute penalty gave them a 2-1 win and they finally got past the first round, going through on away goals. They also came through the next round thanks to an away goal in Denmark against Aarhus, before losing out to Auxerre. A second cup win came in 2001 when they defeated league champions PSV on penalties. This gave them another crack at the UEFA Cup, but after overcoming Polonia Warszawa in the opening round they were knocked out by Grasshoppers and they wouldn’t return to the competition until 2007 but failed to make the group stage after defeat to Getafe in the first round.
The next season, 2008/09 saw them lose 6-0 on aggregate to Arsenal in the Champions League but in the UEFA Cup they did make it to the group stage after an away goals win over Rennes. They were drawn in a tough group alongside Manchester City, PSG, Schalke 04, and Racing Santander, but qualified in second place just a point behind City, despite a 4-0 defeat in Paris. They were back in France for the knockout stage as they faced Marseille where they won the first leg thanks to a Marco Arnautović goal. In Enschede Ben Arfa scored the only goal and the tie went to a penalty shoot-out, and after eight attempts from each side it was Marseille who advanced. On the same night, Fiorentina were in Amsterdam, where an Alberto Gilardino goal wasn’t enough to keep them in the competition as they went out to Ajax.
The following season Twente finished as runners-up in the league to AZ Alkmaar, their highest finish since 1974. This gave them qualification to the Champions League again but they went out to Sporting Lisbon but again they made the group stages of the new Europa League. They got past Qarabağ in the play-off and also came through the group as runners up to Fenerbahçe, but then went out to Werder Bremen. This, however, was the season they won their first, and so far only league title. Although Ajax outscored them, 106 goals to Twente’s 63, with Luis Suarez bagging 35, Twente pipped them to the post by one point, with Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz scoring 24 goals. This also saw them qualify directly for the Champions League group stage, where they came up against Inter, Tottenham, and Werder.
They began the campaign with a 2-2 draw at home to the Italians before losing 4-1 at Spurs. A 1-1 draw at home to Werder saw their former player Arnautović get the equaliser for the German club. They did beat Bremen away before a narrow defeat at the San Siro, and in the last group game they held Spurs to a 3-3 draw to take third place which at least gave them access to the Europa League. They got past both Rubin Kazan and Zenit Saint Petersburg to reach the quarter final stage but they were thumped 8-2 on aggregate by Villareal, with Pepito Rossi scoring in both legs for the Spanish club.
Despite all that European action they still managed to finish second in the domestic league, just two points adrift of Ajax and ahead of PSV. The following season they lost to Benfica in the Champions League play-off and entered the Europa League at the group stage. They topped their group containing Fulham, Wisła Kraków, and Odense. They then knocked out Steau Bucharest before going out to Schalke. A poor league finish that season meant they began the Europa League in 2012/13 at the first qualifying round stage. Here they had an easy 9-0 aggregate win over Andorran side Santa Coloma. They came through another couple of rounds before meeting Bursaspor in the play-off round. After losing the away leg in Turkey 3-1, the won their home leg by the same scoreline before winning the tie in extra-time.
The group stage proved disastrous as they failed to win a single game. In a group containing Hannover, Levante, and Helsingborg, four draws saw them finish bottom. In 2013/14 they arrived third in the league which gave them access to the play-off round of the Europa League. Qarabağ stood in their way and Twente ended up losing out to an away goal, their last appearance in Europe before this season.
After the drama and upheaval of European bans, financial trouble and relegation, a fourth place finish last season and European qualification is seen as the first step on the road to recovery. Victory over FK Čukarički is vital for the club to prove they can make a return to the days of regular European football, and a clash against Fiorentina would bring a return to big European nights to De Grolsch Veste stadium. FK Čukarički, however, will want to finally make it past the second hurdle. My player to look out for in this game is Twente’s Gijs Smal.
The prize at stake, a play-off tie with Fiorentina, and a chance to make the group stage. This is the beauty of European competition, as we eagerly await a tie between FK Čukarički and FC Twente, one of these clubs will have a big say in how our season goes, even at this early stage. Once we have a winner, then we can take a closer look at the current state of the opponent, this one is all about getting to know the clubs.