Hearts aim to catch Spurs cold
© AFP

Hearts are one of Scotland's most historic clubs but have had few reasons to celebrate anything in recent times so they will be hoping for a much-needed boost on Thursday when they host English Premier League giants Spurs in a UEFA Europa League play-off first leg clash.

The prize for the winners of the two-legged 32 matches will be a place in the group stages and Hearts are sorely in need of a good news story following a turbulent start to the season both on and off the pitch.

Unpredictable Lithuanian owner Vladimir Romanov has already sacked one manager in the shape of the popular Jim Jefferies - who guided them to the 1998 Scottish Cup trophy in his first spell - and replaced him with Portuguese Sergio Paulo because he wanted a coach who knew how to win in Europe.

Paulo's coaching career, like his playing one, is patchy at best but the 43-year-old at least takes the four-time champions - whose last trophy was the 2006 Scottish Cup - into the tough assignment on the back of their first league win since March, a 3-0 victory over hapless Aberdeen.

Paulo for his part is not concerned by the fact Spurs are the hot favourites and are keen on showing their place in the last eight of last season's Champions League was the precursor of great achievements on the continental stage. "I am not worried," Paulo told the club's website. "Our players know that they are facing a very good team, but if our effort is good and our focus is good then there is no reason why we can't win."

Hearts at least have the advantage that they are already well into their season whilst Spurs have yet to kick a ball in anger. Their opening Premier League match with Everton was postponed because of the fallout from the riots that took place near their ground over a week ago.

However, Spurs insist that they are totally focused and Welsh star Gareth Bale says that they have also learnt from last season's UEFA Champions League play-off against Swiss side Young Boys which almost saw them go out after they conceded three goals early in the first leg before recovering to score two away goals - and won the second leg 4-0.

"You learn from experiences like that and they stand you in good stead," he told his club website. "We know what to expect from Hearts, we know they will probably come at us from the start, but we will also be raring to go. They'll be just as determined to qualify and we'll need to start well."

Glasgow hopes
Scottish football fans nerves will be jangling as both their Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers are also in action - they have no-one in the Champions League after Rangers crashed out in the qualifying round - against Swiss side Sion and Maribor of Slovenia respectively.

They will want to pull off good results in the first leg and ease the possibility of a new historic low for Scottish football as if all three go out it will leave Scotland without a representative in the group stages of both European competitions.

Like the Glasgow duo the two Roman clubs also make their first appearance in this season's competition but both Lazio and AS Roma appear to have simple tasks against Macedonian side Rabotnicki and Slovakian outfit Slovan Bratislava respectively.

Other standout ties include last season's Turkish league runners-up Trabzonspor against Athletic Bilbao of Spain, and Hanover, fourth in last season's Bundesliga, against two-time UEFA Cup winners Sevilla.

Another Spanish side Atletico Madrid could also face a tough examination as they host Portuguese outfit Vitoria Guimaraes in what will be Atletico's first competitive match since selling star Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero to Manchester City.