Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville face tough Champions League test

Hungary's top dogs can take a bite out of the Reds

By Graham Luney

A little less glamour came Cliftonville's way in the Champions League draw, but the same amount of grit and fighting spirit they showed a year ago will be needed to overcome Debrecen in the second qualifying round.

There is no return trip to Paradise for Tommy Breslin's men, but the players who wrestled with Celtic last summer will encounter yet another daunting hurdle in the shape of the Hungarian giants.

The Reds are expected to pack their bags for the opening battle at the Nagyerdei Stadium on either July 15 or 16, but fans should hold fire on the booking front as there is always the possibility of the home and away legs being reversed.

Debrecen clinched the Nemzeti Bajnoksag I title on goal difference on the final day of last season and many supporters can recall their adventures in the group stage of the tournament in 2009 when they faced Liverpool, Lyon and Fiorentina.

Both matches against the Merseyside giants ended in 1-0 defeats.

Elemer Kondas, manager of the Debrecen side that has won their league seven times, said: "We don't underestimate our opponents – we know we will have difficult contests.

"Cliftonville won their league by six points and have the league's top goalscorer, but now the serious research starts."

Reds boss Tommy Breslin, not surprisingly, also anticipates two titanic tests.

"We have just started our pre-season and facing Debrecen in mid-July when the temperatures will be soaring in Hungary is a tough assignment," he said.

In the Europa League, Linfield will play Faroese opposition for the third year in succession as they drew B36 Torshavn.

Crusaders face Lithuanian opponents in FK Ekranas while Glenavon were drawn with Icelandic team FH.

Due to ongoing reconstruction work at Windsor Park, the Blues will use Mourneview Park for their home European battles.

But the away game should be former Northern Ireland striker Warren Feeney's first match in charge since taking over from David Jeffrey.

The Blues will feel they have a realistic chance of progressing on the continent after overcoming B36 in Champions League qualifying two years ago following a penalty shoot-out.

The only Linfield players remaining from the squad that faced B36 two years ago are Ross Glendinning, Michael Carvill, Jamie Mulgrew, Peter Thompson, Ross Clarke and Niall Quinn.

The Blues – who travel to Loughgall tonight for a friendly (7.30pm) – became the first Irish League club to record three European wins on the bounce last summer and Feeney will be hoping his men can keep the Northern Ireland flag flying proudly.

Glenavon, who are on their travels first, beat Hafnarfjordur in the preliminary round of the Uefa Cup in 1995. The only goal over the two legs was scored by midfielder Sammy Johnstone.

Crusaders host their Lithuanian guests before preparing for the away leg.

League of Ireland side Derry City will face Welsh side Aberystwyth Town in a Europa League first round qualifier.

The Europa League games are to be played on July 3 and 10 with the Champions League ties on July 15/16 and 22/23.

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