Ruaidhri Higgins challenges Derry City players to write a new chapter in club’s European history

RUAIDHRI Higgins is confident Derry City can cause an upset in Kazakhstan and go on to write a famous new chapter in the Brandywell club's European history.
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The club's 40 seater chartered flight arrived in Kostanay on Tuesday evening after more than 10 hours travelling ahead of Thursday's Europa Conference League third round tie against Tobol who are ranked 135 places above them in Uefa's coefficients.

It will be no easy task for Higgins' troops who will attempt to stay within their own time zone as they must play in the energy-sapping mid-afternoon heat where it's expected to reach 26 degrees on matchday.

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Regardless of the travelling and matchday conditions, Higgins believes his team can produce a memorable result and keep their chances of reaching an historic European play-off alive going into the return leg next week.

"We had a tight first round, a really tight second round. I know they (Tobol) are favourites but I think we can cause an upset, I really do," began the City boss.

"I believe in the players and what they're about and the group of players we have. There's no reason why we can't be ambitious and try and get ourselves into the next round.

"We have to go there, it's a long journey but they have to come here as well, that's the nature of the beast. We want to go through the tie!"

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Finnish outfit KuPS were more experienced in European football than Tobol and were ranked higher by Uefa but Derry produced two stunning performances in both home and away legs to progress at their expense.

Derry City players can make history by defeating Tobol to reach the Conference League play-offs.Derry City players can make history by defeating Tobol to reach the Conference League play-offs.
Derry City players can make history by defeating Tobol to reach the Conference League play-offs.

Those displays, particularly the 3-3 draw in Kuopio will give the City players real belief going into Thursday's first leg in Kazakhstan.

"And so they should (have confidence)," continued Higgins. "We've knocked out a team with outstanding European pedigree, KuPS. They have Finnish internationals in their squad and a lot of highly rated young players as well.

"We've put them out and deservedly so. We were the better team over the two legs, there's not a shadow of a doubt. It's not like we beat them and it was sort of touch and go. We beat them and should've beaten them by more.

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"Our players have shown the capacity and capabilities to reach really high levels and we need them to do it again."

Higgins' team has an opportunity to go further than any other Derry City team has gone in Europe with the play-offs within their grasp and the ambitious Brandywell supremo would love to create another piece of history.

"And why not? Honestly, why not? We have players who haven't previously played in Europe who have now played in Europe. We have players who have good experience in Europe as well so we have players who are full of confidence. A lot of individual players are playing at a really high level.

"There's no doubt about it. To go through this tie we're going to need a lot of them to be at a really high level. Again, we're confident.

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"It's going to be a really difficult place to go to but you only live once, and life is short. These opportunities don't come around that often so we have to give it a crack while we're there.

"We've got a lot of really talented individuals and I think Europe gets their juices flowing and gives them a platform to show people what they're capable of."

So how good is the Kazakh opposition who have several current or former internationals in their squad, including Serbian winger Miljan Vukadinović, Ukrainian midfielder Yevhen Shakhov and Kazakhstan's Samat Zharynbetov.

"They're not bad," answered Higgins. "Their front three are real threats., They have good players but so did KuPS and I'm sure they will have been watching us over the next couple of games and won't be excited about playing against some of our players as well.

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"We haven't had loads of time to prepare but that's what we're paid to do, that's our job to make sure we give the players and ourselves as staff as much information as possible. We've done that over the last few days and we will continue to do it over the next couple of days and we will be well prepared."

Skipper Patrick McEleney and Cameron Dummigan were both taken off early with injuries against KuPS in the second leg in Finland and will be assessed prior to kick-off. Striker Jamie McGonigle, who missed the draw in Kuopio due to family commitments, has travelled with the squad and is available to play.