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Leagues: Europa Conference League

How FC Vaduz, a second division club, qualified for Europe

FC Vaduz Europe

This season, Swiss second-tier side FC Vaduz is playing in the group stages of a European competition. In 2020/21, Vaduz finished bottom of the Swiss Super League, falling to the Challenge League.

Yet, Vaduz does not have any kind of hardware from the Swiss leagues or cups to provide access into European club play.

Despite playing in Swiss leagues, FC Vaduz is not a Swiss club. Instead, the city of Vaduz is the capital of the tiny state of Liechtenstein. This nation has a land mass of around 60 square miles, a quantity that would not make it in the top 150 largest cities in the United States. Consequently, the nation which sits sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland, has a population of 38,000. Comparatively, Huber Heights, OH, is on roughly the same population.

Perhaps surprisingly, Liechtenstein’s small nature has its own football federation. Despite having a handful of clubs, the nation does not have its own league. Yet, as a fully recognized UEFA member, Liechtenstein does have its own domestic cup competition.

Reaching Europe

Here is begins to make more sense. FC Vaduz won 21 of the previous 22 domestic cup finals. It is the most successful club in the competition with 48 triumphs after the competition launched in 1945. As a domestic cup winner, FC Vaduz throws its hat in the ring for qualifiers into European club competition.

Of course, performing well in the Swiss League is another route for FC Vaduz to reach Europe. However, less-than-stellar performances ‘domestically’ and failed attempts in the qualifying phase prevented the club from playing in the group stage of any European competition.

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That all changed this season. Plus, to make matters more bizarre, FC Vaduz suffered just two seasons prior.

Last season, while playing in the Swiss Challenge League, the second tier to the Swiss Super League, Vaduz won another domestic cup in Liechtenstein. This punched a ticket to the second qualifying round of the Europa Conference League. While a Champions League club from a season ago in Switzerland, Young Boys, failed to reach even the Europa Conference League, a team from a level beneath them is in the group stage. It is the same position as another Swiss elite, FC Basel, with FC Zürich only a step up in the Europa League.

FC Vaduz reaches Europe for the first time

This Cinderella story began in the final week of July this summer in the second phase of Europa Conference League qualifying.

The Lichtenstein club won 2-1 on aggregate against Slovenian side Koper. The win over two legs advanced Vaduz to a third round tie with Turkish club Konyaspor. In 2021/22, Konyaspor finished ahead of both Besiktas and Galatasaray, good enough for third in the Turkish Süper Lig. Vaduz trampled them up by an aggregate score of 5-3.

The final foe before the group stage was Rapid Wien, the record-title winners in the Austrian Bundesliga. The clubs played to a 1-1 draw in Lichtenstein. Then, an improbable 1-nil upset in Austria qualified Vaduz for its first ever trip to the group stage of any European club competition.

Europa Conference League Group E

After a thrilling summer, F.C Vaduz slotted into Group E in the UEFA European Conference League. Joining Vaduz are AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands, Apollon Limassol from Cyprus and Ukrainian side SC-Dnipro-1.

In the Swiss Challenge League, Vaduz is struggling. An eight-game winless run of four losses and four draws puts the club in ninth out of 10 teams in the competition.

However, not all is dreadful in Lichtenstein. Vaduz grabbed its first European group stage point at the Rheinpark Stadion in Vaduz. A scoreless draw against its Cypriot rivals is a good result for starters.

Vaduz faced a challenge in matchday two, on the road in the Netherlands to take on the two-time Eredivisie champions, AZ Alkmaar. A 4-1 defeat ensued, but it should not dampen the story told out of Lichtenstein.

FC Vaduz is not the biggest side in Europe’s third-tier club competition. Yet, it is one of the most compelling plotlines to track throughout the competition.

PHOTO: IMAGO / GEPA pictures

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