It may seem like an eternity, yet it was little over four years ago that Hannover were welcoming Anji Makhachkala to the HDI-Arena for a compelling last-32 UEFA Europa League tie.

Over the space of 20 months, the likes of Levante, Helsingborg, Standard Liege, Twente, Copenhagen and Club Bruges all paid Lower Saxony a visit. Atletico Madrid provided one of the most spectacular evenings of the lot, only eight months after Hannover had eliminated Sevilla from the competition.

How times change. Last season, Sevilla reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, while Hannover were playing host to Arminia Bielefeld and 1860 Munich in Germany's second tier.

Hannover fans enjoyed many exciting European nights at the HDI-Arena.

Such a fall from grace was never part of the plan, but as the grim reality of relegation to Bundesliga 2 set in, with it went the last remaining memories of those great European nights.

Manuel Schmiedebach is the sole survivor of Hannover's continental adventures under former boss Mirko Slomka, and one of only a handful of players to have stuck by the Reds following relegation to the second division at the end of 2015/16. The club captain was joined in last season's rebuilding process by Salif Sane, Edgar Prib, Artur Sobiech, Miiko Albornoz and the emerging Waldemar Anton, all of whom experienced the ignominy of that ill-fated campaign.

They were the architects of Hannover's immediate return, however, together with Austria international Martin Harnik, who scored 17 goals as Hannover bounced back at the first attempt, as Bundesliga 2 runners-up.

The euphoria still ringing in Hannover ears, the Lower Saxony club have wasted no time in getting prepared for life back in the big time either, with Michael Esser, Matthias Ostrzolek, Julian Korb, Tom Baller, Pirmin Schwegler and Yousef Emghanes all being introduced to their new surroundings before the summer break.

"When there are 1,000km between your home and your new club, then you need a bit of time to get used to the change," explained Hannover sporting director Horst Heldt. "We don't have this time because our team needs to be functioning straight away."

Horst Heldt (r.) has wasted no time bringing in new players for 2017/18. © Hannover 96

The same can be said of coach Andre Breitenreiter, who only arrived in March to piece together the final pieces of Hannover's promotion puzzle, something he did emphatically with 21 points from nine games – more than any other side in the division. His summer will be spent settling into his new surroundings - since there was no time for that when he replaced Daniel Stendel - and plotting Hannover's future path.

That should be one which leads back to those European nights at the HDI-Arena – eventually. "We need three years to establish ourselves back in the Bundesliga, and then we will look forwards," said club president Martin Kind. "I can't say yet whether that will be Europe."

Only Schmiedebach may remain from those evenings, but the memories are still vivid, and the desire to get back with a new troupe of players is strong. "It's tough because the gap has grown and we need to fill these, and nobody has been standing still while we were in Bundesliga 2," admitted Kind. "But that is the challenge and I would be delighted if we could be playing in Europe again in the foreseeable future."

Watch: Hannover's top 10 goals in 2016/17

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