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Europa Conference League draw: Larne set for potential Portugal trip as Linfield also discover fate


Linfield and Larne are the last Irish League sides standing in UEFA competition this summer.

Linfield and Larne are the last Irish League sides standing in UEFA competition this summer.

Linfield and Larne are the last Irish League sides standing in UEFA competition this summer.

Larne will be heading to Portugal for their Europa Conference League third qualifying round tie if they can find a way through AGF Aarhus.

Linfield and the Inver Park side are the final two Irish League teams remaining in UEFA competition this season and, although they have yet to play their second qualifying round ties, they already know the prizes on offer for victory.

If Larne, who could have been pitted against Feyenoord, can beat their Danish opponents, they will earn the right to take on Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira.

Should Linfield see off Bosnian side Borac Banja Luka, they will play either Belarusian team Shakhtyor Soligorsk or Luzembourg's Fola Esch.

While Larne first face the task of beating the team that played Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the 88/89 Cup Winners' Cup, a win would earn the right to face the side that finished fifth in last season's Primeira Liga.

That earned only Pacos de Ferreira's fourth ever season in UEFA competition, having gone straight into the Europa League group stage in 13/14 by finishing third in their domestic division. They even earned a 0-0 draw with Italian giants Fiorentina but haven't been in Europe since that season.

Viewing through the potentially unreliable prism of the UEFA club coefficients, Linfield are favourites against Borac Banja Luka, ranked 149 places higher in 228th. They would also go into the third round tie ranked higher than either potential opponent, but only barely; one place above Fola Esch and three ahead of Shakhtyor Soligorsk.

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Soligorsk have never made it to the group stage of a European competition but have met Irish League opposition twice before. They eased past Omagh Town 8-1 on aggregate in the 2003 Intertoto Cup and then beat Glenavon 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League in 2015, having gone one goal better against Derry City a year previous.

Fola Esch have also never made it to a European group stage and this would be their first meeting with Northern Irish opposition.

Elsewhere, Shamrock Rovers will face either Albania's Teuta or Andorran team Inter Club d'Escaldes (AND) while Bohemians will earn a tie against Greek side PAOK if they can negotiate Luxembourg's Dudelange and Dundalk will take on Dutch team Vitesse if they can beat Estonia's Levadia Tallinn.

Rangers will take on Malmo or HJK Helsinki in their opening Champions League qualifier.

Celtic face a tough task against PSV Eindhoven or Galatasaray if they reach the third qualifying round.

Steven Gerrard's seeded side were drawn out of the pot second and face a trip to Sweden or Finland for the first leg on August 3-4.

Malmo will host Helsinki - the former club of Gers striker Alfredo Morelos - in the first leg of the second qualifying round on Wednesday.

The Hoops are also due to be away for the first leg, if they can get past Midtjylland. Ange Postecoglou kicks off his Celtic reign against the Danish side at Parkhead on Tuesday.

Celtic will play Jablonec in the Europa League if they cannot get past Midtjylland, with the first leg in the Czech Republic.

St Johnstone will play the losers of the PSV-Galatasaray Champions League clash in the third qualifying round of the Europa League. Saints will be away from home in the first leg on August 5.

Irish League sides' Europa Conference League fixtures

July 22 - QR2 leg one: Larne v AGF / Linfield v Borac

July 29 - QR2 leg two: AGF v Larne / Borac v Linfield

August 5 - QR3 leg one: Linfield* v Shakhtyor Soligorsk (BLR) / Fola Esch (LUX) / Pacos de Ferreira (POR) v Larne*

August 12 - QR3 leg two: Shakhtyor Soligorsk (BLR) / Fola Esch (LUX) v Linfield* / Larne* v Pacos de Ferreira (POR)

* = if they are victorious in the QR2 tie

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