Premier League side Everton will test the mettle of Croatian club Hajduk Split as the first leg of their Europa League playoff round gets going at Goodison Park.
The Toffees, seventh placers in the English top-flight tournament last season, advanced after beating Slovakian minnows Ruzomberok 1-0 to complete a 2-0 aggregate win in their third qualifying round encounter.
But against Hajduk, who defeated Danish squad Brondby 2-0 on aggregate, the Toffees could be in for an acid test as they try to make it to the group stage of the competition.
Hajduk, managed by Spaniard Joan Carrillo, wound up third in the Croatian top-flight in 2016/17. Carillo won the Hungarian League in 2015 with Videoton.
They have dispatched Levski Sofia and Brondby to reach this phase. However, they have lost in the final play-off round in each of the last three seasons.
The first leg is slated on August 17 before Koeman’s men travel to the 35,000-capacity Stadion Poljud for the second leg on August 24.
Koeman said Hajduk Split will be a real challenge, expecting their strong support and a stadium that is good to play football in as factors they need to overcome.
Hajduk are six-time champions of the Croatian League. Their best showing in the Europa League (then UEFA Cup) was a semi-final outing during which they were ousted by eventual winners Tottenham Hotspur.
The Everton boss added they are bent to reach the group stages of the league, while Hajduk Split will attempt to pull off an upset.
Because of the Toffees’ progression, their Premier League match against holders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge has been moved to August 27, having previously been scheduled to take place the previous day.
Everton are expected to count a lot on new main man, the returning Wayne Rooney.
Rooney scored the lone goal in their win over visiting City as the Toffees launched their Premier League campaign with plenty of good things to expect.
Against Hajduk Split, Koeman is expected to lean heavily on Rooney’s vast experience and winning mentality as the former Manchester United ace try to inspire the Toffees to complete their mission of sending Everton back into Europe again.
It is in this aspect that the Toffees should be heavily picked to eliminate Hajduk Split in their two-leg matchup even though this will be their first competitive meeting.
Everton are priced to win in the first leg at 1.22, while a Hajduk Split win is worth 11.00. A draw is worth 4.60.