Excitement is building in Mostar as Serbian giants FK Partizan return to the Bijeli Brijeg Stadium to meet NK Zrinjski in the UEFA Cup tonight.
The two sides have never met - with Zrinjski being dissolved during the days of the former Yugoslavia - but fans in the Bosnia-Herzegovnian city on the banks of the River Neretva have plenty of memories of Partizan from their meetings with Zrinjski's neighbours FK Velež when both teams competed in the Yugoslavian top division.
Partizan's last trip to the Bijeli Brijeg ended in a 1-0 loss to Velež in 1992, and their popularity in the area also saw them play a home game at the stadium in 1989. Ordered to play a European home game at least 300km from Belgrade after an AS Roma player was struck by a coin thrown from the stands during a UEFA Cup second-round tie, they opted for Mostar. That UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first-round match saw Partizan triumph 2-1 against Scottish giants Celtic FC, progressing on away goals after a 5-4 defeat in the second leg. Patizan went on to reach the quarter-finals.
Partizan will go into the game as favourites, with Zrinjski boasting little experience in European football. However, with their coach Blaž Slišković having faced the Belgrade side a number of times during his playing career, with both HNK Hajduk Split and Velež, Zrinjski will not be overawed by the task that faces them.
"Of all of the stronger rivals we could have been picked to play against, I'm glad we got FK Partizan," said the former Bosnia-Herzegovina coach who scored three goals in 26 appearances for the former Yugoslavia and was once dubbed the Balkan Maradona. "This will definitely be a footballing spectacle, and I expect my players to give their all."