Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Manchester United set to give Linfield’s Euro hopes huge boost

Linfield received an unexpected European boost last night — all thanks to Manchester United.

The Red Devils’ Champions League semi-final victory over Schalke has kicked off a series of domino-effect consequences which could see the Blues bypass the first qualifying round of next season's competition.

All that Linfield need now is for United to finish in the top three of the Barclays Premier League and David Jeffrey's men will be automatically jetted into the second preliminary phase.

“As well as being a Manchester United fan anyway, this has given me an extra incentive to cheer them on,” said Jeffrey.

“I believe we are currently scheduled to be back in action towards the end of June but a little favour from United would give us an extra fortnight's rest and that would come as a massive benefit to us.

“I must admit, though, I haven't been able to work out or understand why this has all come about — but I've certainly got no complaints,” he added.

Should United claim a top three position — which they would mathematically secure with victory over Chelsea this weekend — they will automatically qualify for the group stages of next season's Champions League.

With fellow finalists Barcelona having already guaranteed their own group berth, that opens up an extra place in the first round proper, which would be taken by this season's champions of Switzerland.

The consequential space left by the Swiss side's absence from the third qualifying round would be filled by the winners of the Scottish Premier League, whose elevation from the previous phase opens up another gap — which Linfield would take.

The Blues had originally been set to play in the six-team first qualifying round against representatives from either Malta, San Marino or Andorra but, thanks to Manchester United, will instead join Faroe Islands champions HB Torshavn in being fast-tracked to the next stage.

“We haven't enjoyed a great deal of fortune in the Champions League over the years because we've constantly been drawn against top sides like Rosenborg and Dinamo Zagreb, but this would certainly be a welcome change of luck,” added Jeffrey.

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