Europa League - preliminary round review

Tue, Jul 10 2018

Ahmed Januzaj, who helped Albania qualify for Euro 2016, scored twice for Kosovan side FC Prishtina in 6-1 aggregate win over Europa FC of Gibraltar Credit: Al Robinson (ETPhotos)

It may be only seven weeks since Atletico Madrid beat Marseilles in Lyon in last season’s Europa League final but this year’s competition is already underway.

The first qualifying round had its first game Tuesday evening, with six ties on Wednesday and the bulk of the matches taking place on Thursday.

However there was a preliminary qualifying round before this which is already complete and here is a round up of that action.

Seven teams from Europe’s eight lowest ranked leagues progressed to this week’s first qualifying round that will also feature Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Dundalk (who of course reached the group stages of the 2016/17 competition).

It is a long road from the preliminary stage of the competition into the group stages let alone right through to the final in Baku in May 2019. Ten games having to be negotiated if one of the clubs in the preliminary round was to even make it to the group stage. 

Club sides from Lithuania, Malta, Wales, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Andorra, San Marino and Kosovo entered at this lowest stage. 

The placings are allocated based on their 2017 UEFA country coefficient which takes into account performances in European club competition from 2012/13 to the 2016/17. 

Kosovo are ranked lowest for the simple reason that their club sides only began competing in European competition in the 2017-2018 season and therefore have no points. 

The Northern Irish Premiership is the ninth lowest ranked league in Europe and they just edged out Lithuania in the UEFA country coefficient table. Of the 55 European Leagues, Spain are ranked highest, with Germany in second, while the SSE Airticity Premier Division is ranked at number 38 - one place behind the Albanian Superliga and one ahead of the Bosnian Premijer Liga,

The most remarkable result of the preliminary round was the 3-1 aggregate win for Tre Fiori of San Marino over Welsh side Bala Town.  

This was the first time a club from the Campionato Sanmarinese di Calcio progressed to the next round of a European competition.

Remarkably since club sides from San Marino first entered European competition in 2000/01 there has only one win recorded with Tre Penne defeating Shirak 1-0 on a 2013/14 champions league preliminary round first leg tie before going down in the return in Yerevan. 

A 3-0 first leg win for Tre Fiori in the Stadio Di Fiorentino set the amateur side up to defend their advantage in Wales in the second leg and despite a 77thminute Nathan Burke goal it was to prove to be a historic night with Fiori progressing 3-1 on aggregate.

They will meet Rudar Velenge of Slovenia in the next round. It was a bad preliminary round all round for Welsh football as the Cefn Druids were beaten 1-0 by Trakai in Lithuania to go down 2-1 on aggregate.

The Lithuanians will meet Irtysh Pavlodar of Kazakhstan in the next round.

Despite being the lowest ranked side in the competition, it was also an historic night for Kosovan football as FC Prishtina thumped Europa FC of Gibraltar 5-0 to win 6-1 on aggregate.

Ahmed Januzaj who has won eight full caps with Albania contributed notably with two goals to complete the rout at a raucous Pristina City Stadium. 

The Kosovars go on to face Fola Esch of Luxembourg in the next round and will be fancied to progress.

Both representatives from the Faroe Islands were victorious with B36 Torshavn defeating St. Joseph’s of Gibraltar on penalties and Klaksvik situated on the most northerly island of the archipelago overcame Birkikara of Malta 3-2 on aggregate.

They will go on to face Mladost Podrigica of Montenegro and Vilnius of Lithuania respectively.

In the remaining two games Gzira United of Malta defeated Sant Jula from Andorra and San Marino were denied a second side progressing as a 90thminute own goal gave Andorran side UE Engordany a 3-2 aggregate victory over Folgore.

The first qualifying round ties will take place this coming Thursday 12 July with Shamrock Rovers at home to Swedish side AIK Solna.

Dundalk who are seeded in the draw will face FC Levadia Tallinn whilst Derry City will face Dinamo Minsk of Belarus at the Brandywell