Following the club’s third-place finish in the cinch Premiership and progression to the Scottish Cup final, Robbie Neilson’s men are ensured at least eight European games, across the Europa League and potentially the Conference League if they lose the play-off tie.
This upcoming European adventure is a far cry from the last time Hearts were in European action. Back in 2016, the team entered the first qualifying round of the Europa League. They defeated Estonian side Infonet before being bundled out in the second round by Maltese outfit Birkirkara.
Here is everything you need to know about Hearts’ upcoming European campaign, from key dates to possible opponents to prize money.
Perhaps the first thing Hearts fans would have been looking at when their place as Scotland’s Europa League representatives was secured were the key dates for the diaries and when they may have to book time off work for some away trips.
Europa League play-off ties: August 18 and August 25.
No matter if Hearts competes in the group stage of the Europa League or the Conference League the match dates remain the same:
September 8, September 15, October 6, October 13, October 27 and November 3.
The group stage is more condensed this season due to the World Cup taking place in Qatar in November and December.
The first date to keep in mind is August 1. That’s when Hearts will find out their possible play-off opponents. The group stage draw then takes place on August 26.
How does the Europa League play-off work?
There will be 20 teams in the Europa League play-off. Hearts will be one of seven classed as ‘Priority 1’, currently alongside Gent, Dnipro-1 and PSV Eindhoven (the Dutch giants will likely qualify for the Champions League through their league position).
The good news, Hearts won’t be drawn against any of those mentioned.
Hearts will face one of the two teams classed as Priority 4 or one of five sides in Priority 3.
How the draw works is Priority 1 will be drawn with Priority 4 until there are no longer any Priority 4 sides left. The remainder of the Priority 1 teams will be drawn against an opponent classed as Priority 3.
Who could Hearts be drawn against?
Now, it is far too early to give a definitive list and the following may involve some careful reading.
Handily, the Twitter account Scotland’s Coefficient does a power of work researching and detailing everything and anything to do with Scotland’s representatives in Europe. Whether it be their coefficient, possible routes forward and more.
The graphic in this link gives a representation of where possible opponents could come from.
Priority 4 opponents are the two winners from the Main Path of the Europa League third qualifying round.
The third qualifying round will comprise the Cypriot Cup winners – which could be Neil Lennon’s Omonia Nicosia – Serbian Cup winners and the two losers from the Champions League second qualifying round who drop into the Europa League.
Currently, the teams that will drop from the Champions League are two from Dynamo Kyiv, Fenerbahce, FC Midtjylland and APOEL. That could change depending on how the Turkish, Danish and Cypriot league finishes.
As for Priority 3. It is the five winners from the Champions Path of the Europa League third qualifying round. That round is made up of ten teams that are champions of their country who lost in the Champions League qualifying second round.
Click on this link to see some of the teams who will be involved in the Champions League qualifying second round.
What happens if Hearts win the play-off?
It is pretty straightforward. Hearts will be in the draw for the Europa League group stages where they will join big names from La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and the Premier League.
Defeat is far from the end of the world. Hearts will drop into the Conference League group stages. That too will feature some big names from around Europe.
How can Hearts be in Europe beyond the group stage?
Winning the Europa League group will qualify the team for the round of 16, whereas second would see the club participate in the knockout round play-offs for a place in the round of 16. A third-place finish means dropping into the Conference League knockout round play-offs.
If Hearts are in the Conference League group stages, a second place finish would mean a place in the knockout round play-offs. Winning the group would ensure passage to the round of 16.
How much money can Hearts make?
For clubs the size of Hearts, the money available is lucrative. Taking this season’s prize money as a barometer, the club would get €3.63million for reaching the Europa League group stages alone. Winning a game in the group stage is worth €630,000 and a draw brings in €210,000.
Winning the group is worth €1.1million and second is €550,000.
In the Conference League, group stage participation is €2.94m. Winning a game in the group stage is worth €500,000 and a draw brings in €166,000.
Winning the group nets an additional €650,000 and a second is worth €325,000.
Just as an aside, when is the end?
This year’s Europa League final is in Budapest at the Puskás Aréna on May 31. The Conference League finale is scheduled for June 7 but no venue has been confirmed.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.