The drawing for the Europa League group stage took place on Friday and club legend Carlos Gurpegui represented Athletic as ambassador. As the names were drawn the Lions saw Hertha Berlin, Zorya Luhansk, and Ostersunds all drawn as their opponents in Group J. After the drawing, Gurpegui spoke to the media on scene to give his thoughts on the pairings and said that he believes that Athletic can progress to the next stage, but knows that it won’t be easy.
“We have Hertha, a strong German team. The Ukrainians were third in their league where there are a lot of other strong teams, so there is a lot of quality. The most unknown is the Swedish club. The draw has been positive. With the fullest respect I think we can advance. At this point every team is strong. They prepare better and anyone can give you a scare. We are showing a lot of strength, especially in our stadium, and we are optimistic. We want to have a great Europa League campaign.”
Gurpegui went on to admit that Hertha Berlin will be the strongest opponent, but that everyone is difficult at this stage of the tournament. He also said that Athletic has to continue improving and getting better if they want to have a strong showing and go far in the Europa League.
“No doubt that Hertha Berlin, by their name and league, is the strongest rival. They play against very strong opponents every week, but they, like everyone else, still have to prove it on the field. If we are lucky we will have a strong start and will do well in the Europa League. We want to go really far. We have a thorn in our sides from last year and we want to make up for it this year. Every year the teams get better, especially after some fall from the Champions League, so we have to continue to improve and get better ourselves.”
The group stage will officially begin on 14 September when Athletic will travel to Germany to take on Hertha Berlin. The Lions will end their group matches on 7 December when they will travel to Ukraine to face off with Zorya Luhansk which is already looking like it will be an extremely difficult match. Athletic are already being pegged to advance out of the group but they know that they can’t take anyone for granted now. There are high hopes for the Europa League this season and Kuko Ziganda and company have been very vocal about the fact that they are taking every opponent seriously.