Rijeka - VfB Stuttgart have the group stages of the UEFA Europa League in sight when they travel to Croatia for the first leg of their play-off against HNK- Rijeka on Thursday night (kick-off 20.30 CET).

In the first qualifying round against PFC Botev Plovdiv, VfB laid the groundwork for victory with a hard-fought 1-1 draw away from home thanks to a goal from Vedad Ibisevic. Head coach Bruno Labbadia will be hoping for a similar story against the relatively unknown Rijeka.

Encouraging start, despite results

Last season’s DFB Cup runners-up have endured a tough start to the campaign, losing both of their opening Bundesliga games. Yet the results - 3-2 away in Mainz and 1-0 at home to Bayer 04 Leverkusen - have masked some decent performances from the players.

In both games, missed opportunities prevented VfB from taking at least a point, while the defeat against Leverkusen came courtesy of Daniel Schwaab's own goal against his former club. The fact that he had failed to score in 96 games for Leverkusen only heightened the view at the Mercedes-Benz Arena that all Stuttgart appear to be missing is a little luck.

Unknown quantity

Labbadia admitted he knew little about his team's Croatian opponents, but has nevertheless been able to call upon some inside information. Stuttgart's sporting director Fredi Bobic spent his last weeks as a player at Rijeka in 2006 and is looking forward to returning there. "It's obviously something special for me, I had a wonderful time there," he commented.

Rijeka are currently sixth in the Croatian League and unbeaten so far with three draws and three wins.

Possible line-ups:

Rijeka: Mance - Maric, Knezevic, Datkovic, Boras - Tomecak, Leskovic, Mocinic, Jugovic - Tadic, Krstanovic

Stuttgart: Ulreich – Rüdiger, Schwaab, Molinaro – Sakai, Gentner, Boka, Rausch – Harnik, Traore, Ibisevic