Belfast Telegraph

Linfield could face another Celtic clash: All you need to know about the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers

Including how Crusaders have a decent chance of a huge tie

Ballymena United's Andy McGrory, Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew, Crusaders' David Cushley and Cliftonville's Joe Gormley are all looking forward to European action.
Ballymena United's Andy McGrory, Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew, Crusaders' David Cushley and Cliftonville's Joe Gormley are all looking forward to European action.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

This summer's European qualifiers could hand Irish League sides some massive ties.

Danske Bank Premiership champions Linfield, of course, are set for the Champions League and could be drawn against Celtic in the first qualifying round.

In the Europa League, Crusaders are one win away from a potential tie against Roma or Wolves while Ballymena United and Cliftonville need to progress just one round to open up a potential head-to-head with Rangers.

It won't be long until the teams discover who they will face and what their chances of progression are.

So what are the key dates and what's in store for each team?

Champions League: Linfield FC

Round of entry: Linfield will enter the competition at the first qualifying round and they will be unseeded for the draw.

Date of draw: The Blues will discover their fate on Thursday, June 18 when the draw takes place for both the first and second qualifying rounds in Nyon.

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Who's the top team they could face? The most notable name, there's no question, is that of Scottish Premiership champions Celtic. The two teams came face to face in the second round in 2017, Celtic winning the tie 6-0 on aggregate. Due to a fall in the Scottish coefficient, the Hoops now enter the competition in the first round.

Other potential first qualifying round opponents: While there's currently a list of 16 teams the Blues could draw, they are usually split into geographical pools to avoid a long trip to, for example, Serbia's Red Star Belgrade. A game against Celtic, the Republic of Ireland's Dundalk or Norway's Rosenborg, therefore, seems more likely. The current 16 options are: Celtic, BATE Borisov, Astana, Ludogorets, Qarabag, Maribor, Red Star Belgrade, Sherriff Tiraspol, Rosenborg, HJK, Dundalk, Dundelange, Shkendija, The New Saints, Slovan Bratislava, AIK

When do the games take place? The first qualifying round first leg will be play on 9/10 July, with the second leg on 16/17 July.

What if they make it through to the second round? It's there that Copenhagen, Dinamo Zagreb and APOEL enter the fray and it would depend who Linfield were to beat whether or not they would be seeded.

What if they get knocked out? Due to the rule changes that came in last summer, Linfield would then drop into the Europa League, where they would face one of the other sides who were beaten in the Champions League.

ld v Celtic 079.jpg
Linfield played Celtic in 2017.

Europa League: Ballymena United

Round of entry: Ballymena United will enter the Europa League in the preliminary round but will be unseeded for the draw as their coefficient is just 0.0775 - the lowest in the entire competition.

Date of draw: United will discover their fate on Thursday, June 11 when the draw for the preliminary round takes place in Nyon.

Who's the top team they could face? In terms of coefficient, it's Sanmarinese side La Fiorita, who Linfield beat in the Champions League qualifiers in 2017 but in reputation, it's Progres Niederkorn from Luxembourg who, of course, dumped Rangers out of the competition two years ago.

Other potential preliminary round opponents: Ballymena will face one of La Fiorita (San), Progres Niederkorn (Lux), Europa (Gib), NSI Runavik (Far), Kl Klatsvik (Far), Prishtina (Kos)

When do the games take place? The prelimary round first leg will be played on June 27 with the second leg a week later on July 4.

What if they make it through to the first qualifying round? It's there that they could get a match against Rangers. And it's worth bearing in mind that if the draw is split into geographical regions, the chances of that are boosted. There's also the likes of Legia Warsaw, Malmo or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's old side Molde. The first qualifying round first leg is scheduled to be played on July 11 with the second leg a week later on July 18.

Europa League: Crusaders

Round of entry: Crusaders will enter the competition one round later than the other Irish League sides because they qualified as Irish Cup winners. Not only that but the Crues will be seeded, giving them a good chance of making it through to the second qualifying round.

Date of draw: The Crues will discover their fate on Friday, June 19 when the draw for the first and second rounds takes place in Nyon.

Who's the top team they could face? The unseeded team with the highest coefficient is Estonia's FCI Levadia while Hungary's Debrecen, who reached the Champions League group stages in 09/10, are also in the draw. However, in the likely event it is split into geographical segments, those teams could both be ruled out. The Crues could face Shamrock Rovers or St Pat's Athletic. Other teams potentially in the correct area would be the Faroe Islands' Torshavn, Welsh side Connah's Quay Nomads and Iceland's Breiðablik.

When do the games take place? The first qualifying round first leg is scheduled to be played on July 11 with the second leg a week later on July 18.

What if they make it through to the first qualifying round? If Crusaders were to make it through a potentially MASSIVE tie could be on the cards. The dream opponent is Italian giants Roma, while Eintracht Frankfurt, Espanyol and Wolves provide more tasty options, as would Rangers if they made it through the first qualifying round. The Crues will know their potential opponents in advance as the second qualifying round draw also takes place on June 19.

Europa League: Cliftonville

Round of entry: Cliftonville will enter the Europa League in the preliminary round but, unlike Ballymena, will be seeded for the draw.

Date of draw: The Reds will discover their fate on Thursday, June 11 when the draw for the preliminary round takes place in Nyon.

Who's the top team they could face? In terms of coefficient, it's Andorra's Sant Julia but in terms of familiarity, it's Wales' Barry Town.

Other potential preliminary round opponents: The six sides on offer to the Reds are: Engordany (And), Sant Julia (And), Barry Town United (Wal), Cardiff Metropolitan University (Wal), St Joseph’s (Gib), Tre Fiori (San)

When do the games take place? The prelimary round first leg will be played on June 27 with the second leg a week later on July 4.

What if they make it through to the first qualifying round? It's there that they could get a match against Rangers. And it's worth bearing in mind that if the draw is split into geographical regions, the chances of that are boosted. There's also the likes of Legia Warsaw, Malmo or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's old side Molde. The first qualifying round first leg is scheduled to be played on July 11 with the second leg a week later on July 18.

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