After winning the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League by a record point’s margin, The New Saints will once again take on the cream of the crop, in the greatest Club competition in the world, the UEFA Champions League.
The Saints faced Helsingborgs IF last year and after securing a wonderful 0-0 draw at Park Hall stadium, the Swedes were too strong in the away leg and secured a 3-0 aggregate victory. The Oswestry based club has faced a number of high profile teams whilst competing in European competition, including Manchester City FC, RSC Anderlecht and five time European Cup Champions, Liverpool FC.
TNS will enter the 2013/2014 UEFA Champions League during the Second Qualifying round and are set to face a European giant. The draw for both the First Qualifying round as well as the Second Qualifying round will take place in Nyon, Switzerland on the 24th of June.
There are a possible eighteen different clubs that TNS could face due to the Gambrinus Liga, which is the top league in the Czech Republic, yet to finish. The two clubs that can secure a spot in the competition are Viktoria Plzeň and Sparta Prague. They will both go into the final League game of the season with a chance of winning the Czech title.
The other sixteen possibilities are:
FC Bate Borisov. (European Coefficient 39.175)
FC BATE Borisov is a Belarusian football team playing in the city of Borisov. They compete in the Belarusian Premier League and are the reigning champions. Bate are the only Belarusian team to have qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and for the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. Their home stadium is the Borisov City Stadium. However, for European matches they play their games in the Dynamo Minsk Stadium.
Celtic FC. (European Coefficient 37.538)
Celtic FC is a Scottish football club based in Glasgow. The club was established in 1887, and played its first game in 1888. They have won the Scottish League Championship on 44 occasions. In 1967 Celtic won an unprecedented quintuple. In doing so they became the first British team to win the European Cup. That season they also won the Scottish League Championship, the Scottish Cup, the Scottish League Cup, and the Glasgow Cup. Celtic also reached the 1970 European Cup Final, and the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.
FC Steaua București. (European Coefficient 35.604)
FC Steaua București is a Romanian professional football club based in Bucharest. They are the most successful Romanian football team in European competition as well in the Romanian League, having won the domestic title on 24 occasions. They became the first Eastern European team to win the European Cup, after winning in the 1986 European Cup final against FC Barcelona. Steaua has always been known as the club of the Romanian Army, who founded it in 1947 as a sports society. The Army continues to own the society, which is called CSA Steaua București
GNK Dinamo Zagreb. (European Coefficient 25.916)
GNK Dinamo Zagreb, commonly referred to as Dinamo Zagreb, or by their nickname Modri (“The Blues”) is a Croatian football club based in Zagreb. They play their home matches at Stadion Maksimir. They are the most successful club in Croatian football, having won fifteen Croatian championship titles, twelve Croatian Cups and four Croatian Supercups. The club has spent its entire existence in the top flight, having been members of the Yugoslav First League from 1946 to 1991, and then the Croatian First League since its foundation in 1992. The club’s biggest rivals are Hajduk Split, and matches between the two teams are referred to as “Eternal derby”. Dinamo are currently reigning Croatian league champions having won their eighth consecutive Prva HNL title in the 2012/13 season.
Fudbalski klub Partizan Beograd. (European Coefficient 17.425)
Fudbalski klub Partizan Beograd commonly known as FK Partizan Belgrade is one of the biggest clubs in Serbia and are based in Belgrade. The club plays in the Serbian SuperLiga and has spent its entire history in the top tier of Yugoslav and Serbian football. They are the second most successful club in Serbia, having won a total of thirty-nine trophies, including twenty-five national championships, twelve national cups, one national Super Cup as well as one Mitropa Cup. The club was founded in 1945 and their stadium has a capacity of 32,710.
Legia Warszawa SA. (European Coefficient 13.650)
Legia Warsaw is a professional football club based in Warsaw, Poland. It was founded in March 1916 in the area of Maniewicze in Volhynia as the football club of the Polish Legions. After World War I, it became the main official football club of the Polish Army. Today, it is one of two Warsaw-based football clubs participating in the Polish Ekstraklasa, the other being Polonia Warsaw. The club’s home venue is the Polish Army Stadium. Legia is one of the most successful Polish football clubs in Polish history, winning a total of nine Ekstraklasa Champions titles, a record 15 Polish Cup trophies and a record four Polish Super Cups.
FC Sheriff Tiraspol. (European Coefficient 11.553)
FC Sheriff Tiraspol is a famous football club based in Tiraspol, Moldova. The club plays in the Divizia Naţională, the top division in Moldovan football. The club was founded by the Sheriff Security company in 1997. The club won promotion to the top flight in 1998 dominated the Moldovan National Division with ten consecutive titles from 2001 to 2010, winning an eleventh in 2012. FC Sheriff has also won seven Moldovan Cups despite never reaching the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Nogometni Klub Maribor. (European Coefficient 9.941)
NK Maribor is a professional football club based in the city of Maribor, Slovenia. Founded in 1960, Maribor is one of only three football clubs in the country who have never been relegated from Slovenian top flight. They are regarded as a symbol of Slovenian football, particularly in their home region of Styria. Maribor is the most successful club in the country, having won eleven Slovenian PrvaLiga titles, seven Slovenian Cups and two Slovenian Super Cups.
ŠK Slovan Bratislava. (European Coefficient 8.341)
ŠK Slovan Bratislava is a football club based in Bratislava, Slovakia, that plays in the Slovak Super Liga. The club was founded in 1919 and is the most successful team in Slovakia. Bratislava became the first and so far only club in Slovakia as well as former Czechoslovakia to win one of the European cup competitions, the Cup Winners’ Cup after they famously defeated FC Barcelona in the final in 1969. The club also supplied seven players to the victorious UEFA Euro 1976 Czechoslovak team.
Idrottsföreningen Elfsborg. (European Coefficient 8.125)
Idrottsföreningen Elfsborg, also known as IF Elfsborg, is a professional football club based in Borås, Sweden. They play in the Allsvenskan and have spent most of their history in the top tier of Swedish football. Their home ground is the Borås Arena, where they have played since 2005. The club was founded in 1904.
Maccabi Tel Aviv FC. (European Coefficient 8.075)
Maccabi Tel Aviv is an Israeli football club and part of the Maccabi Tel Aviv sports club. It is one of the oldest clubs in Israeli football and is the most successful club in Israeli football history with 20 championships, 22 national cups, 2 Asian Champions Cups, and 3 Toto cups. Maccabi has won the championship and the cup in the same season six times, and are the only club in Israel never to have played outside the top division. The club was founded in 1906.
Molde Fotballklubb. (European Coefficient 7.835)
Molde Fotballklubb is a football club from Molde, Norway and were founded in 1911 Molde are two time league champions and two time Norwegian Cup winners, and have finished 2nd in the league a further seven times. Molde is one of two Norwegian clubs that have participated in the UEFA Champions League. The club was former Manchester United player Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first professional club, and in January 2011 he returned to manage the club. In his first season as manager, which was also the club’s 100-years anniversary season, Molde won the league championship for the first time.
HJK Helsinki. (European Coefficient 6.701)
HJK Helsinki is a Finnish football club, based in the capital Helsinki. HJK is the most successful Finnish football club with 25 Championship titles. In the 2011/2012 UEFA Champions League Second qualifying round they faced Welsh outfit Bangor City and won 13-0 on aggregate.
Football Club Ekranas. (European Coefficient 6.300)
Futbolo Klubas Ekranas is a Lithuanian football club, playing in the town of Panevėžys. The club was founded in 1964. The club has won the Lithuanian championships in 1985, 1993, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. They also won the Lithuanian Cup in 1985, 1998, 2000, 2010 and 201. They were founded in 1964 and play their home games at the Aukštaitija Stadium.
Neftchi Baku PFK. (European Coefficient 5.708)
Neftchi Baku PFK is an Azerbaijani football club based in the capital, Baku. They are the most famous and most successful Azerbaijani club with eight Azerbaijan Premier League and four Azerbaijan Cup titles. In 2012, Neftchi Baku became the first Azerbaijani team to advance to the group stage of a European competition, beating APOEL of Cyprus 4-2 on aggregate in the play-off round of the 2012–13 UEFA Europa League. They were founded in 1937 and play their home games at the Bakcell Arena.
FC Dinamo Tblisi. (European Coefficient 5.333)
FC Dinamo Tbilisi is a Georgian football team, based in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Dinamo Tbilisi was one of the most prominent clubs in Soviet football and a major contender in the Soviet Top League almost immediately after it was established in 1936. Its main claim to European fame was winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1981, beating FC Carl Zeiss Jena of East Germany 2–1 in the final in Düsseldorf. Throughout its history, FC Dinamo Tbilisi has produced many famous players such as Temuri Ketsbaia, Kakha Kaladze, Shota Arveladze and Giorgi Kinkladze.
The UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying round first leg fixtures will take place on either the 16th or the 17th of July. The second leg will be played a week later on either the 23rd or 24th of July.
The New Saints have annually made giant steps forward in the UEFA Champions League and now find themselves with a realistic chance of progressing into the Third Qualifying round. Participating in this round would all but ensure a glamour tie with a European Giant.
Last year Craig Harrison had his first taste of European football and he can’t wait to take on Europe’s elite again. Harrison who played for Middlesbrough in the English Premier League spoke of his excitement at locking horns with some of the Continent’s giants, ‘Last year was fantastic and European football was something that I never experienced as a player. As a manager it was definitely the best moment I have and I can’t wait for another go.’
The director of Football also revealed who he wants to draw, ‘There are some glamour ties and there are some very, very tough ties. Celtic for instance would be a fantastic draw for the club and there would be plenty of local interest. They are one of the biggest clubs in Europe and they beat Barcelona last year, who are arguably the best team in the world. The support Celtic has is huge and all round it would be a wonderful tie.’
The former Crystal Palace defender then went on to discuss the other potential ties, ‘There are other clubs that would involve lots of travelling as well as being tough games. Bate, Steua Bucharest and Partizan Belgrade are all very good teams and they would all be a very hostile place to play football in. Helsingborgs won their domestic treble prior to when we played them and we did really well against them, especially at home.’
Harrison confirmed that if TNS got a kind draw then there could be a chance, ‘With clubs like us, it is all about the draw. If you get a kind draw then you never know and you might have a chance. We have got to hope for a club from the bottom half of the draw. We proved last year that at home we can give anyone a game but like I said, some of the teams in Europe are exceptional.’
The New Saints are set to begin pre season training on Monday the 3rd of June, with the focus firmly on the greatest Club Competition in the world.