UEFA: Euro draws ensure the new season isn’t too far away
The draws for the first two qualifying rounds of the two main European club competitions were made in Nyon, Switzerland this afternoon just 23 days after FC Barcelona claimed their fourth UEFA Champions League crown at Wembley Stadium.
The UEFA Champions League begins on June 28th with two-legged ties involving the bottom four ranked national champions from UEFA’S Co-Efficient table which measures the progress of each country’s clubs in European competition over a five year period. San Marino champions Tre Fiori will kick off the 2011-12 campaign against Maltese representatives Valletta FC whilst Luxembourg’s finest F91 Dudelange will face-off against Andorra’s Santa Coloma. The winners of these games will be rewarded with ties in the second qualifying round against Lithuania’s FK Ekranas and Slovenia’s NK Maribor respectively. There are a number of interesting ties with a number of first-time national champions making their debut in this competition including Albania’s Skënderbeu Korçë (v APOEL Nicosia), Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Borac Banja Luka (v Maccabi Haifa), Macedonia’s FK Shkendija (v Partizan Belgrade), Hungary’s Videoton FC (v Sturm Graz), Kazakhstan’s FK Tobol (v Slovan Bratislava), Czech Republic’s Viktoria Plzeň (v Pyunik Yerevan) and Moldova’s Dacia Chişinău versus fellow first-timers Zestafoni FC from Georgia.
Amongst the biggest clubs to play at this stage of the competition are Polish champions Wisła Kraków who face off against Latvian record champions Skonto Riga. Demand for this game seems to be hot with the official Skonto Riga page on Facebook reporting that their website had received overwhelming amounts of traffic coming from fans from Poland. Perennial Norwegian champions Rosenborg BK are back in contention and should fancy their chances against Icelandic counterparts Breiðablik whilst Dinamo Zagreb will take part in another qualifying campaign by starting off against Azerbaijan’s Neftchi Baku. In the British Isles Bangor City, Linfield FC and Shamrock Rovers – the respective champions of Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – have been dealt some potentially tricky ties in the form of HJK Helsinki, BATE Borisov and Flora Tallinn. 1980 European Cup finalists Malmö FF will begin their campaign with an easy(ish) looking tie against Faroe Islands masters HB Tórshavn whilst the list is completed with Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech due to play FK Mogren from Macedonia.
The draw for the first two qualifying rounds of the 2011-12 UEFA Europa League were also made today and there are so many games that it would take too much space to write about them all here. However the first qualifying round will see 2009-10 losing finalists Fulham FC make an appearance as they gained a place thanks to UEFA’ s Fair Play table last season. The English club, under new management in the form of Dutch coach Martin Jol, will begin their campaign against Faroe Islands outfit NSÍ Runavík. Hungarian giants Ferencváros, who won one of this tournament’s predecessors in 1965 when it was called the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, will make a return to Europe after a six year absence against Armenian side Ulisses FC. In total fifty clubs will play in the 1st quali-round and the winning teams will join 55 more clubs in the next round. Many of the matches in the 2nd quali-round are already known, amongst the biggest is the clash between Polish league runners-up Śląsk Wrocław and Scottish side Dundee United, who were runners-up in the old UEFA Cup in 1987. The UEFA Europa League will get under way on Thursday, June 30th.