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Linfield promised real test from San Marino champions as they target more European joy

 

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Good times: Linfield duo Mark Stafford and Shayne Lavery enjoy the Windsor
Park win over Qarabag in the Europa League last year

Good times: Linfield duo Mark Stafford and Shayne Lavery enjoy the Windsor Park win over Qarabag in the Europa League last year

�INPHO/Brian Little

Good times: Linfield duo Mark Stafford and Shayne Lavery enjoy the Windsor Park win over Qarabag in the Europa League last year

Irish Premiership winners Linfield will meet the kings of San Marino in their Champions League preliminary round semi-final on August 8 and it appears both sides are content with the draw.

The Blues can expect to face Tre Fiori, who were declared champions of the 2019-20 Sammarinese league after it was, like the Irish Premiership, cut short due to Covid-19.

The winners of the semi-final will meet either the champions of Kosovo or Andorra three days later for a place in the first qualifying round and it seems Linfield's opponents feel they got the luck of the draw.

Tre Fiori chairman Giorgio Leoni said: "This is the draw we preferred. In short, it is a team which, like us, have only been training for a short time.

"I am not saying that they are not within our reach, they are teams where you have to fight where you have to try to do something good. But there is the possibility to beat them.

"We have 20, 21 players available to us, some did not want to stay but unfortunately that's football.

"So in short, everyone has their own interests and we must go on.

"I see that we are training very well, there are several players that will do us justice and we hope to be able to put together a strong team and maybe repeat what we did a few years ago in the Europa League."

Linfield have played opponents from San Marino once before - defeating La Fiorita 1-0 at Windsor Park and drawing 0-0 in San Marino three years ago.

Tre Fiori have only ever progressed through one round of European competition, when they beat Welsh side Bala Town in the Europa League preliminary round in 2018.

They became the first Sammarinese club to win a European tie when they defeated Bala Town 3-1 on aggregate.

Names of all the clubs involved will be revealed by August 3.

Uefa have yet to officially confirm a venue although last month the Irish FA claimed it was due to be played in Nyon, Switzerland - home of the Uefa headquarters.

After losing to Rosenborg in the Champions League last year, the Blues overcame HB Torshavn from the Faroe Islands and Montenegro's Sutjeska but their luck ran out against Qarabag.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the qualifiers will this year be held via single-leg ties as opposed to the usual home and away format, with the exception of the Champions League play-off round.

The draw will decide which team hosts the game.

Northern Ireland's two Europa League qualifiers will both enter in the preliminary round, with Coleraine joined by either the Irish Cup winners or Crusaders, should the Bannsiders win the Cup.

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Belfast Telegraph