BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
PRINCE Buaben is determined to ensure Hearts shine in Europe next season after his first taste of continental competition went by in a flash.
The midfielder savoured the chance to pit his wits against Europe’s elite when Dundee United qualified for the Europa League thanks to their Scottish Cup triumph of 2010.
But, being plunged straight into the play-off round against top Greek opponents AEK Athens, Buaben and his Tannadice team-mates fell at the first hurdle following a 2-1 aggregate defeat.
Having left Tayside the following summer for English football, the 28-year-old has had to wait patiently for the opportunity to grace the continent for a second time.
And the Ghanaian is desperate to help ensure the experience is not over so quickly this time round as Hearts look forward to their June 30 date in the Europa League first qualifying round.
He said: “I played two games for Dundee United in Europe against AK Athens and that was a great experience but the only time I have played in Europe.
“It was really something, you’re playing against good players who just want to pass the ball. You can only learn from that kind of stuff. It was really good.
“When you play these kind of games it is all about chances, when you get them you need to take them.
“I remember when we played them at home we got a bit nervous, which is natural because it’s a great feeling to play in these kind of games.
“Going into the second game we had the feeling we could win the game, but like I said it’s all about the chances and we couldn’t finish them off.
“For us, it depends on the team we get. If we get a small team we can get a feeling for the competition.
“And if you win that first tie then you can start thinking about going further.”
Hearts play their penultimate fixture of a long league season when they travel to face Aberdeen this evening.
The match pits Hearts in third against their second-placed hosts and Buaben insists he is content – if a bit surprised – with the Tynecastle side’s lofty finish in their first season back in the top-flight.
He added: “Any player would have taken that. Finishing third is a great achievement, especially having come up from the Championship.
“If I am being honest I didn’t expect us to do this well. This is a good league with good players, so to do what we have done this season is very satisfying.
“I thought the top-six would be our goal because you have good teams like St Johnstone and Motherwell have been doing well also.
“But I just think we have worked well as a group. We don’t have individual players who just think about themselves – we have got a bunch of players who want to play for each other.”
Whilst Buaben believes Hearts are a club on the up, he has been bemused by the plight of former club Dundee United.
Having gone from Scottish Cup winners to relegation in the space of just six years, Buaben admits it is a lesson for all clubs to ensure they do not rest on their laurels.
He commented: “Football is just crazy sometimes. Look at Leicester in England, anything can happen.
“For us, we are going to have to try and maintain what we have here.
“The owners and the backroom staff are doing very well, they are bringing in players within the budget.
“They are not just going and giving people stupid money and then seeing them not perform for the club. They are bringing in players who want to work for the team and the club, and that’s a really good thing.
“I thought Dundee United might be one of our rivals for the top-six this season. If you look at them they should be up there with the likes of us.
“I am very disappointed to see them go down, I didn’t expect that to happen, but that’s football. They are just going to have to go down and work hard like we did last year and try and come back again.”