NOVEMBER 2006, and an 18-year-old Tim Krul is pulled to one side by Newcastle United boss Glenn Roeder ahead of a UEFA Cup group game in Palermo.

His instant reaction was one of joy because he was expecting to be told he had made the squad that would travel to Italy and line up on the substitutes' bench as the Magpies took on one of the rising forces in the Italian game.

Instead, things were even better than he could have imagined. Roeder indeed told him to pack his bags for a trip to Sicily, but then added that he would be making his senior debut in the heat of European competition.

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By the end of the week, he had played a key role in a surprise 1-0 away win, secured by a goal from, all of people, Albert Luque. Krul made three key saves to contribute to the victory and was most observers' man of the match. Little wonder that he has enjoyed a passionate love affair with European football ever since.

“European matches always mean a lot to me,” said Krul, who will make his fifth continental appearance in a Newcastle shirt when Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv visit St James' Park this evening. “I played my first game for the club in this competition and was only 18 at the time, so it was a massive, massive day for me.

“It's one I will never forget. I was nervous, very nervous, but that's obvious when you're making your debut for a massive club like this. The fact it was a European game only added to the occasion.

“It was the UEFA Cup at the time, and ever since, the Europa nights have always been really special. The Europa League is an exciting league to be in, especially for a club like Newcastle United, and it would be great to be involved in it for a long time.”

It might not have seemed like it as Newcastle were slogging their way through the Europa League's group stage in the first half of the season, but across the continent, the competition retains a high level of appeal.

It might not boast the allure or finances of the Champions League, but for players and teams aspiring towards the top table of the world game, it represents a significant staging post in terms of development.

Since breaking into Newcastle's first team at the start of last season, Krul has rapidly established himself as one of the most highly-rated goalkeepers in the Premier League. He has also forced his way into the Holland team, and is vying with Roma's Maarten Stekelenburg for the role of Dutch number one.

Extensive European experience is the one thing that really eludes him, something that can also be said of the likes of Papiss Cisse, Jonas Gutierrez and even Moussa Sissoko and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who moved to Tyneside this month.

“Playing in European matches is important in terms of developing your career,” said Krul. “It's a totally different experience to play in European games and, as a player, it is important you get to sample that.

“When you're doing a lot of travelling and playing in Thursday night football, that helps massively when it comes to playing for your country in international games.

“It's always better when you're playing European football because I think the people involved in the national team are watching those matches and seeing how you do. They like to see that you are playing at a European level.”

With European qualification all but impossible via the Premier League, winning the Europa League will be the only way for Newcastle's players to secure more continental action next season.

The bookmakers make the Magpies 33-1 to win May's final in the Amsterdam Arena – ironically a longer price than they were before the tournament started last August – but Krul feels last month's influx of new signings has transformed the outlook of a squad that has won two of its last three matches.

It is hard to know exactly what to expect from Newcastle in the remaining three months of the season, but a sense of cautious optimism has quickly displaced the doom and gloom that was apparent at the turn of the year.

“The new lads have been great,” said Krul. “They've really settled in well and it was a massive boost for everybody to get players in of such quality. That gives everyone a boost.

“It's always nice to see new faces, and it's been easier for them because we had a few French lads here so they've been able to settle in really quickly.

“In terms of Europe, our main aim was to get through the group stages, which we have done. Metalist are a tough side, but we have a good chance, especially with the bigger squad we have now. Hopefully, we can really attack this game and go as far in the competition as possible.”

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