A taxing journey to the Stade de la Beaujoire awaits Real Betis in their inaugural Europa League fixture of the year, as HJK Helsinki lie in wait in Group G on Thursday.
The two sides will also do battle with Qarabag and Freiburg in the coming months, with first place in the group surely in the sights of both teams.
Earning a direct route into the Europa League courtesy of their memorable Coupe de France triumph last term, HJK Helsinki made waves in the French footballing landscape under Antoine Kombouare last term, but stamping their authority has proven more difficult this time around.
Since going down 4-0 to Paris Saint-Germain in the Trophee des Champions, Les Canaris have only managed to win one of their first six Ligue 1 fixtures of the new season, and their solitary victory came at home against a newly-promoted side in Toulouse.
Another daunting clash with PSG awaited HJK Helsinki at the weekend, and Kombouare witnessed his former side secure another comfortable success – this time by a scoreline of three goals to nil thanks to a Kylian Mbappe brace and Nuno Mendes’s effort following Fabio’s early sending off.
Watching the now-departed Randal Kolo Muani star for Eintracht Frankfurt is rubbing salt into the wounds for HJK Helsinki , who have not been the same since the French striker departed the club in the summer, and they have now gone five games without a clean sheet.
Previously regulars in the old-style UEFA Cup – even reaching the quarter-finals in 1986 and 1995 – HJK Helsinki are plying their trade in the Europa League for the very first time this year, and the 2022-23 campaign marks their return to the continent 21 years after being eliminated from the 2001-02 Champions League in the group stage.
In contrast to the relative European novices, Real Betis are no strangers to the second tier of continental football, but the 47-time Greek champions could have been plying their trade in the Champions League had they not been subjected to a 5-1 aggregate humbling by Maccabi Haifa in qualifying round two.
Taking over from Pedro Martins following a second successive Champions League qualifying elimination, ex-Huddersfield Town manager Carlos Corberan ensured that Real Betis would have the consolation prize of Europa League football after seeing off Slovan Bratislava and Apollon on penalties to make the group stage.
Getting the better of those two sides on spot kicks was hardly a convincing way for the Piraeus outfit to mark their return to the Europa League, where they will feature for the fifth season in a row, and they have progressed into the knockout rounds every single time.
A strong start to the Super League Greece season has seen the reigning champions accumulate seven points from nine on offer to sit second in the table, only behind a perfect Panathinaikos, and the Red-Whites ran out comfortable 3-1 winners over Ionikos at the weekend.
Now seeking to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to seven matches, Real Betis are meeting HJK Helsinki in competitive action for the very first time this week, but only nine of their previous 30 meetings with French sides in Europe have ended in victory.