Zorya Luhansk train at Leicester City Stadium

A Busy Day In Leicester As European Football Returns

The excitement of European football arrived in Leicester on Wednesday as the UEFA Europa League's media operation landed at both Leicester City Stadium and Belvoir Drive ahead of Thursday's group stage opener.
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Three years after the Football Club's last appearance on the European stage, the spectacle of continental football is set to illuminate the 2020/21 campaign for the Foxes faithful yet again.

City have been pitted against Ukrainians Zorya Luhansk, Portuguese side SC Braga and Greek outfit AEK Athens in Group G ahead of Leicester's first Europa League appearance in its current format.

Just over 24 hours before Thursday's group stage curtain-raiser against Luhansk, an 8pm BST kick-off on Filbert Way, the competition's presence was already being felt at Belvoir Drive.

Firstly, members of the media were offered a rare glimpse behind the curtain for an open session at the Club's training ground as City's 25-man squad continued their pre-match preparations.

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James Maddison
James Maddison

City's European squad trained under the watchful eye of the media on the sidelines at Belvoir Drive.

Ahead of what promises to be an intriguing clash with the visitors from Luhansk Oblast, Brendan Rodgers' men were in high spirits during the morning, before an equally busy afternoon schedule awaited.

The Northern Irishman was joined by compatriot Jonny Evans on the top table as the duo took turns to field questions from the national and international press concerning Leicester's European return via video call.

On the agenda during the hour-long media briefing were a range of topics; some familiar, such as fitness news and pre-game thoughts, and some not so; including opinions on Ukrainian football.

"We're really, really looking forward to it," Evans told the journalists, all in attendance, virtually. "It's been a target of the Football Club for a while, to get into Europe again.

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Jonny Evans
Jonny Evans

Foxes defender Evans addressed the media via video call from the Club's training ground.

"It's something which was highlighted at the start of last season as an objective and we managed to achieve that. It's just a pity the fans can't be there because we'd love to share it with them.

"Hopefully, despite that, we can go far in the tournament. We're in every competition to win it."

For Rodgers, meanwhile, it's a return to European competition after several campaigns on that stage with Liverpool and Celtic and the 47-year-old is hoping to see his players rise to the occasion.

"When you’re playing in Europe, the teams you play against are top teams from their countries, so they’ll also be confident," he said.

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Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers outlined when he took charge in February 2019 that it was his ambition to bring European football to Leicester.

"This is a club which has got about seven years of experience in European football, so they’re used to playing in Europe and in this type of environment.

"It’s a tough game but it’s a game we worked so hard last year to be a part of. There’s so much that has gone on this season and last already, but we work really, really hard."

Later on in the day, meanwhile, back at Leicester City Stadium, Zorya got their first taste of the facilities on offer on Filbert Way with an open training session of their own.

Before training, Viktor Skrypnyk, formerly of Werder Bremen and Riga, was accompanied by goalkeeper Mykyta Shevchenko in the media suite to address a contingent of press from his homeland.

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Viktor Skrypnyk
Viktor Skrypnyk

Skrypnyk oversaw an open training session at Leicester City Stadium on Wednesday night.

"I don’t have to advertise Leicester," Skrypnyk commented, discussing the task at hand for his side. "They are one of the strongest teams in the group, but we have six matches in the group.

"I know we are not favourites, but football is football, it is anybody’s game. We are looking forward to experiencing this beautiful stadium and atmosphere here in the UK.

"Our guys will do their utmost. In every game, we work towards the same result, to show maximum effort. We hope to show our country in the best light."

Former Shakhtar Donetsk shot-stopper Shevchenko, on the other hand, pointed to the unpredictable nature of football as one reason for the visitors to approach the clash with a confident frame of mind.

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Mykyta Shevchenko
Mykyta Shevchenko

Zorya's No.30, goalkeeper Shevchenko, was the player who addressed the media on Filbert Way.

"We are looking forward to this game against a very good team and we are looking forward to showing our qualities in the game," the 27-year-old said. 

"They have very good players, young and experienced players, but it is the same for our squad. Each match in this competition is like a celebration for us.

"We’re concentrating on tomorrow’s match and all our efforts will be on the 90 minutes and we’ll be looking to put some points on the table.

"Football is unpredictable. Anything can happen on the pitch, so we are all going to do our best."

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