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By ESPN Staff

Ambitious Gretna make European bow

GLASGOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Scottish second division side Gretna make their UEFA Cup debut on Thursday still pinching themselves at their rapid rise to the European stage.

Gretna, a tiny Borders town more famous for weddings than soccer, earned their place in Europe courtesy of a gripping run to last season's Scottish FA Cup final which they lost in a shootout against Premier League Hearts.

Successive promotions have lifted Gretna to one rung below the top-flight and they enter Europe for the first time with a second qualifying round tie against Derry City just four years since being accepted into senior football.

Manager Rowan Alexander has been at the heart of the success story along with millionaire Brooks Mileson, whose cash has backed the team from the town with a population of just 5000.

Alexander jetted out to Switzerland for the UEFA Cup draw last month and savoured every minute.

'Myself and Brian Quigley (club official) were sitting there, looking at the UEFA Cup knowing Gretna Football Club were in the bowl,' he recalled.

'We looked at each other and just laughed with disbelief.'

The Gretna revolution shows no signs of abating with plans to expand their tiny Raydale Park ground, with a capacity of 3000, to meet Premier League criteria.

The stadium is too small to stage Thursday's tie and will be played at Motherwell.