Dundalk FC v Riga FC (Latvia)
Shamrock Rovers FC v Brann (Norway)
Cork City FC v Progres Niederkorn (Luxembourg)
St. Patricks Athletic FC v Norrkoping (Sweden).
Writes Jack Maguire – Sports Editor
After a long, gruelling 2018/19 season, Liverpool were crowned Champions League winners and Chelsea reigned superior in the Europa League. Only weeks after the conclusion of the two major European competitions, the journey begins again for hundreds of football clubs around Europe. The road to qualifying starts in late June when the preliminary qualifiers for the Champions League and Europa League kick off. The 2019/2020 Campaign sees four League of Ireland teams compete in the qualifying stages, vying to book their place among Europe’s most prestigious clubs at the pinnacle of continental football.
The first LOI team to take to the field in European Qualifiers is Dundalk FC. Dundalk will face Latvian Champions Riga FC. The Latvian club were formed in 2014 and are making their first appearance in the Champions League. Riga triumphed in the Latvian league by four points in 2018, booking their place in the first qualifying round for the Champions League. Riga’s frontman, Darko Lemajic also claimed the golden boot netting 15 goals. They completed the domestic double by defeating Ventspils on penalties in the Latvian Cup final. Eighteen games into the 2019 league campaign, Riga are six points clear at the summit of the Virsliga. Kamil Bilinski and Felipe Brisola have been in good form hitting the net in recent 4-0 and 6-1 league victories. Dundalk have also racked up some important results in the past few weeks including wins over their title rivals Shamrock Rovers and Waterford FC. It is sure to be an entertaining tie between two successful teams. Tickets have already sold out for the home leg at Oriel Park on Wednesday, 10th of July at 7.45pm. The winner of this exciting tie will face either Partizani of Albania or Qarabag of Azerbaijan in the second qualifying round.
Much like their opponents Shamrock Rovers, SK Brann are a major domestic club. Despite only finishing third in last year’s Eliteserien, they still booked their place in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. Brann have not won the Norwegian league since 2007 and are set to make their first appearance on the European stage since 2016 when they reached the second qualifying round of the Europa League. Vito Wormgoor is their top scorer so far this season with four goals in fourteen games. The Brann Stadion holds 16,750 spectators and is situated in Norway’s second largest city, Bergen. Brann have faced Irish opposition in the past. They defeated Shelbourne United over two legs in 1996 in the Uefa Cup Winners Cup. Rovers travel to Bergen for the first leg on Thursday 11th of July, with kick off at 6pm. The game will also be televised on Eir sport.
Thursday, 11th of July sees the return of European football to Turners Cross as Cork City take on Progres Niederkorn in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. Cork City’s season got off to a very poor start, racking up only 6 wins in 24 games. City come into the tie as favourites and with the electric atmosphere of European nights at ‘The Cross’, anything is possible. The Luxembourgian side finished last season in 4th place with 13 wins in 26 games. Mayron De Almeida has been on a good run of form, having scored in each of Niederkorn’s games against Cardiff Metropolitan University. If Cork City were to overcome the Niederkorn challenge, they would likely face an intriguing contest against Rangers of Glasgow. Rangers enjoyed a comfortable 4-0 victory over St Josephs of Gibraltar. Progres’ last European campaign saw them reach the third qualifying round of the Europa League. Last year, Cork City lost out to Legia Warsaw in the Champions League qualifiers, then fell to Rosenborg in the Europa League qualifiers. City will be hoping to turn their poor run of form around on Thursday night and set themselves for the away league on Thursday 18th of July.
St Patricks Athletic were late entrants to the Europa League as replacements for Waterford FC who were ineligible for European football due to having been reformed in 2017. The regulations state a club must have been in existence for over three years to become eligible. St Pats were quick to raise this point and rightfully took their place in the qualifiers. IFK Norrkoping of Sweden make the long trip to Inchicore on the 11th of July to take on St Patricks Athletic. Mikey Drennan has been Pats main man this season scoring 6 goals so far this season. St Pats currently sit in 4th place in the League of Ireland. Norrkoping have only been defeated 3 times in 15 games this season, yet they are only in 6th place in the Swedish League. Norrkoping’s number 11, Jordan Larsson has been in incredible form this season scoring 9 goals and assisting another in 14 starts. Christoffer Nyman has also netted 6 times and assisted a goal in 14 games this season. Ian Bermingham and Kevin Toner will have their hands full on Thursday night. Having performed well so far in Ireland, the defensive partnership will hope to hold the Swedish strikers scoreless.
European football brings massive excitement to the towns and cities around Europe, and the Irish football fans look forward to it every year. Hopefully the games will encourage people to come out and support their local teams and cheer them into the next round!