Rijeka v AEK Athens background
This week, football fans watching UEFA Europa League matches in stadiums, online and on TV will witness the premiere of the new UEFA RESPECT TV ads, called #EqualGame. The adverts feature Ada Hegerberg, Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and amateur players and will run throughout the season to promote inclusion, diversity and accessibility in European Football with the motto “Everyone has the right to enjoy football, no matter who you are, where you’re from, or how you play.” More information on the campaign and on the advertisements can be found in the accompanying media release and on the campaign website: www.equalgame.com.
Rijeka are up against Greek opposition for a third successive European game, and will hope for a better result in their UEFA Europa League Group D opener against AEK Athens.
• The sides are meeting for the first time in UEFA competition.
• Rijeka enter the group stage after losing to another Greek club, Olympiacos, in the UEFA Champions League play-offs. They went down 2-1 in Piraeus and 1-0 at home in their first fixtures against Greek opponents.
• AEK have won five of their six previous matches against Croatian teams, the only disappointment in that run a 3-0 defeat at Dinamo Zagreb (then representing Yugoslavia) in a 1964 European Cup Winners’ Cup preliminary round game.
• Since beating TNS home and away in July, Rijeka are without a win in four European matches (D2 L2) this season and have not scored in their last two UEFA home fixtures, against Salzburg and Olympiacos; however, they are yet to lose a group stage home game (W2 D4).
• AEK have not scored in their last three European away fixtures (D2 L1), including a defeat at CSKA Moskva in this season’s UEFA Champions League third qualifying round. Indeed, prior to their 3-0 home victory over Club Brugge in the UEFA Europa League play-offs, they had not scored – home or away – in five European matches.
• Croatian title winners for the first time last season, Rijeka are embarking on their third UEFA Europa League group stage campaign but have yet to reach the knockout phase.
• Winners of Greece’s end-of-season UEFA Champions League play-offs, AEK have had five previous UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League group stage campaigns, most recently in 2011/12. They have only once reached the round of 32, in 2007/08.
Links and trivia
• The journey from Athens to Rijeka is around 1,100km.
• Rijeka boast Greek talent in the form of former Panathinaikos winger Charis Mavrias; he and AEK’s Lazaros Christodoulopoulos were Greens team-mates from 2010–13.
• AEK have a Croatian player, former Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split trainee Marko Livaja; on loan from Las Palmas, he has never played senior football in his native country.
• Livaja and Rijeka’s Florentin Matei were on the books at Italian side Cesena in 2011/12.
• AEK’s Dmytro Chygrynskiy won the UEFA Cup as a Shakhtar Donetsk player in 2009.
• Rijeka’s longest-serving coach, Slovenian Matjaž Kek was hired in 2013 and steered the team to their first league championship and fourth Croatian Cup in 2016/17. A defender and coach at Maribor, where his father and son also played, he was Slovenia boss from 2007–11.
• Manolo Jiménez returned for a second spell as AEK coach in January 2017, having led the club to 2010/11 Greek Cup glory during his first stint. The former Sevilla left-back has also coached Sevilla, Real Zaragoza and al-Rayyan.