This is a hectic time of year for European club competition as the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round kicks off today and tomorrow (second leg ties on July 22nd and 23rd) followed by the UEFA Cup first qualifying round on Thursday. The final edition of the UEFA Intertoto Cup will have its third round ties played over the next two weekends.
Here’s a quick rundown of the Champions League qualifiers that will be taking place.
I’ve made my predictions below, though I have to be honest that I am not well versed on all of the teams competing at this stage. There are several clubs that are getting their first taste of European club competition including Welsh champions Llanelli AFC, Montenegro’s FK Budu?nost Podgorica, Faroe Islands-based NSÍ Runavík as well as Irish champions Drogheda United FC.
Some of my predictions are based on feeling more than logic but one club that I do feel confident about choosing is Dinamo Zagreb as they are a strong side despite selling star midfielder Luka Modric to Tottenham Hotspur. They also sold Ognjen Vukojevi? to Dynamo Kyiv but have moved quickly and brought in three South American players — Chilean midfielder Pedro Morales (he’s appeared for his country 6 times at the senior leve thus far and is considered one of the rising stars of Chilean football), Argentinian Guillermo Suárez (who was part of the CA Tigre side that last season achieved their highest-ever league finish in Argentina) and Luis Ezequiel Ibañez, a 19-year-old left-back acquired from Boca Juniors.
The other club I am feeling confident about is IFK Göteborg as they won the Swedish league last season. The other reason I favour Goteborg is that they have adopted a practice of working hard to develop homegrown talent. The practice was a choice forced on them by a financial crisis the club suffered from splashing out money on importing players during the 1990′s and early 2000′s. Last season’s championship was their first since 1996. The club can boast of a squad that contains only three players from outside Sweden and even those are Scandinavian — Danish goalkeeper Kim Christensen and Icelandic defenders Hjalmar Jónsson and Ragnar Sigurdsson. It’s a remarkable turnaround and I look for their resurgence to continue. They face off against SS Murata, who made headlines for trying to recruit retired Brazilian striker Romario and ex-Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher for their Champions League campaign.
First leg: July 15/16
Second leg: July 22/23
- Linfield FC (Northern Ireland) v NK Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
- Valetta FC (Malta) v FC Artmedia Petrzalka (Slovakia)
- FC Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia) v NSÍ Runavík (Faroe Islands)
- FC Santa Coloma (Andorra) v FBK Kaunus (Lithuania)
- S.S. Murata (San Marino) v IFK Göteborg (Sweden)
- Llanelli AFC (Wales) v FK Ventspils (Latvia)
- Anorthosis Famugusta (Cyprus) v FC Pyunik (Armenia)
- FK Inter Baki (Azerbijan) v FK Rabotnicki (Macedonia)
- Tampere United (Finland) v FK Buducnost Podgorica (Montenegro)
- F91 Dudelange (Luxembourg) v NK Domzale (Slovenia)
- KS Dinamo Tirana (Albania) v FK Modrica (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- FK Aktobe (Kazakhstan) v FC Sheriff (Moldova)
- Drogheda United FC (Ireland) v FC Levadia Tallinn (Estonia)
- FC BATE Borisov (Belarus) v Valur Reykjavík (Isreal)