14/09/2011 15:59 +0100 – Birmingham manager Chris Hughton has admitted he could do without the added burden of the Europa League ahead of the game. Te Blues face what Hughton describes as an "unforgiving" programme of fixtures in the run-up to Christmas that may yet have a damaging effect on their bid to return to the Premier League. However, having qualified for the Europa League group phase, which starts on Thursday night with a clash against last year's runners-up, Hughton has every intention of enjoying the occasion. "Can it be a hindrance? Yes, it can be," said Hughton, of a tournament that has not garnered much affection of late. "But if you looked at the atmosphere and what the players gave in the home (qualifying) game with Nacional to get us to this stage, I don't think you would have seen it as a hindrance then. "Could we do without the extra games? Yes, arguably we could do, but we're here, and once you're in these games they are exciting to play in." City could not have asked for a much tougher opening fixture than against the number one seeds. "They've great quality, no doubt about it," said Hughton. "They are the favourites because of where they've been in recent seasons, and more so last season, so we are very conscious of that." Hughton will again be without striker Nikola Zigic (groin), but fellow forward Marlon King is available despite missing training today. Braga will be looking to maintain the sort of form that took them to the final against Portuguese countrymen Porto in Dublin in May where they were narrowly beaten. They stand third in the Portuguese Liga, two points behind leaders Porto, with 10 points after four games. The Arsenalistas took on two English teams in Europe last season. Their first outing ended in a chastening 6-0 defeat by Arsenal in the Champions League - although they did win the return leg 2-0. After failing to progress in that tournament they entered the Europa League where they beat Liverpool 1-0 on aggregate in the last 16. However, they will be hoping to improve their away form having lost all six of their last European games and that not including the defeat in Dublin. Thursday night's match will be the first time the sides have met.