Although the players and staff are having a well-deserved break in May, we’re all looking forward to the upcoming UEFA Champions League campaign. Sam Wood brings us part one in a weekly series as we look at our possible opponents.
The lead photograph is a map of Europe with potential destinations pinned.
While The New Saints may be seeded in the Champions League 1st qualifying round draw on June 19th, there are still plenty of high calibre teams that we can come up against.
Each week we’ll be bringing you a feature giving you the low-down on some of those potential clubs and destinations, as well as everything you need to know as we prepare for that draw.
While the likes of the Faroe Islands and Slovakia will be familiar to Saints’ fans, with the team having made recent excursions there, there’s also the potential of trips to new destinations such as Armenia and Iceland.
So as promised, here’s the first part of our Champions League qualifying preview.
FC Torpedo Kutaisi
Stadium (capacity): Ramaz Shengelia Stadium (14,700)
Best European result: 1-0 vs Linfield [Champions League 1st qualifying round, 2001-2002]
With a seeding of just 1.000, Torpedo Kutaisi are, on paper, the weakest team that TNS could draw. Since making their European debut in the 1998 Intertoto Cup, the Georgian side have advanced on four occasions. Perhaps their most impressive victory came against Northern Irish side Linfield, who they defeated 1-0 on aggregate in the first qualifying round of the 2001-2002 Champions League.
They haven’t won a European match since 2003 though and were eliminated 8-1 on aggregate by AS Trenčín of Slovakia in last year’s Europa League.
Stadium: A. Le Coq Arena (10,500)
Best European result: 1-1 (advanced on away goals) vs Lyn Oslo [UEFA Cup 1st qualifying round, 2006-2007]
FC Flora, or Flora Tallinn as they are commonly known, are one of two clubs that have never been relegated from the Estonian premier division. They’ve won that title 11 times and they boast a large number of Estonian internationals in their ranks.
Flora have only failed to qualify for Europe once in the last 24 years, but in those 24 years,they’ve only progressed once. A 1-1 away draw against Lyn Oslo in Norway was enough to see them through in the first qualifying round of the 2006-2007 UEFA Cup.
They did manage to pick up a win during their last Champions League outing though. However, a 2-1 home win against Lincoln Red Imps in 2016 wasn’t enough to see them move forward on aggregate.
Stadium: Slokas Stadium (2,500)
Best European result: 3-1 vs Budućnost Podgorica [Europa League first qualifying round, 2015-2016]
As one of the relatively newer sides in this year’s competition, FK Spartaks don’t have a great deal of European pedigree to judge them on. However, they did pick up a fantastic 3-1 aggregate win against Budućnost Podgorica in their very first Europa League tie in 2015.
Their only previous outing in the Champions League came in last season’s competition. A 1-0 home defeat, compounded with a 1-1 away draw, saw them eliminated 2-1 on aggregate by Astana.
Stadium: Hlíðarendi stadium (1,524)
Best European result: 1-0 vs Ventspils [Europa League first qualifying round, 2017-2018]
Valur, or Knattspyrnufélagið Valur to give them their full title, make their first Champions League appearance since 2008 this summer. On that occasion, they were eliminated 3-0 by Belarus’ BATE Borisov.
However, their last European win actually came last year. A 1-0 home win against Ventspils, before a 0-0 away draw, was enough to send them into the second qualifying round of the Europa League, where they eventually lost to Domžale.
Valur made their European debut way back in 1966, and have matches against Benfica, Celtic, Aston Villa, Juventus and Monaco in their history.
That’s it for part one. Be sure to check back next week as we take an in-depth look at the next four potential clubs.