PAOK in focus ahead of Europa Conference League clash with Hearts

Hearts host the Greek side at Tynecastle for the play-off on Thursday night.

PAOK in focus ahead of Europa Conference League clash with Hearts SNS Group

Hearts face PAOK in the Europa Conference League play-offs as they bid to make it to the group stage for the second year running.

Here is the lowdown on the Greek Super League side ahead of the first leg at Tynecastle on Thursday.

Form

PAOK ensured qualification for Europe by finishing fourth in the Greek Super League last term, 16 points adrift of title winners AEK Athens and 16 points ahead of their nearest challengers and Thessaloniki rivals, Aris, who were fifth.

They reached the play-off round by beating Beitar Jerusalem 4-1 over two legs and Hajduk Split 3-0 on aggregate although the first legs of both of those qualifiers finished goalless.

PAOK began their new league campaign with a 3-0 home win over Asteras Tripolis on Sunday.

European pedigree

PAOK have been regulars in Europe since their first appearance in the Fairs Cup in 1965/66.

They have made it through the groups and into the Europa League last 32 on four occasions since the 2010/11 campaign.

The deepest they have gone in European competition was two seasons ago when they made it to the quarter-finals of the Conference League before losing 3-1 on aggregate to Marseille.

The Greek side’s most recent foray into Europe was a damp squib as they lost 3-1 on aggregate to Levski Sofia in the second qualifying round just over a year ago.

Their only previous meeting with Scottish opposition was in August 1998, when they lost 2-0 on aggregate to Dick Advocaat’s Rangers in a UEFA Cup qualifier.

Manager

A former goalkeeper in Romania, Razvan Lucescu is currently in his second spell as PAOK manager after almost two years in Saudi Arabia with Al Hilal between 2019 and 2021.

The 54-year-old from Bucharest – whose 78-year-old father Mircea has had a long and illustrious career as a manager – was in charge of Romania for two years between 2009 and 2011 after beginning his time in management with Brasov and then Rapid Bucharest in his homeland.

Between leaving the national team and first taking over at PAOK in 2017, he has also had stints back at Rapid and at Qatari side El Jaish, Petrolul Ploiești in Romania, and Greek side Xanthi.

Players

Right-back Vieirinha, who was part of Portugal’s Euro 2016-winning squad, is the long-serving captain having joined PAOK in 2017 from Wolfsburg.

Serbia international Andrija Zivkovic, who has scored four goals in his last two games, is one of the Greek side’s main threats, along with former Brazil international Taison, Spaniard Brandon Thomas and German winger Khaled Narey.

Nigerian defender William Troost-Ekong joined PAOK this summer following three years with Watford.