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All you need to know as Linfield to face San Marino side in Champions League preliminary round opener

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Linfield's Mark Stafford celebrates scoring in the Europa League last summer

Linfield's Mark Stafford celebrates scoring in the Europa League last summer

PA

Linfield's Mark Stafford celebrates scoring in the Europa League last summer

Linfield have been drawn against San Marino side Tre Fiori in the opening game of their European campaign.

Here's everything you need to know about today's draw and how the summer's European qualifiers will progress:

What round is this?

Irish League teams aren't normally familiar with the Champions League preliminary round but Linfield, as the Danske Bank Premiership champions, are in a round earlier than normal this year. That's because, of course, a few years of disappointing European results had dropped the Irish League into the bottom four domestic leagues in the European coefficient rankings. Thanks to last summer's improvements, it's a one-season-only change.

How does this round work?

The champions of the bottom four ranked nations go into a mini-tournament with just one team progressing to the Champions League first qualifying round after two semi-finals and a final. The remaining three sides drop into the Europa League second qualifying round.

Which teams are playing this year?

The four nations represented are Northern Ireland, Kosovo, San Marino and Andorra.

The teams from NI and Kosovo were both seeded for the semi-final draw as the two higher-ranked nations.

The deadline to nominate teams is not until August 3 so we are as yet unclear who the Andorran or Kosovan champions will be.

As things stand in Andorra, Engordany are three points clear at the top of the league with FC Santa Coloma close behind and two games to play including a meeting between the pair in the final round of fixtures.

In Kosovo, Drita are currently three points clear of Ballkani, with Gjilani just a point further back and three games left to play. It's still mathematically possible for Prishtina to win the league given they're seven points back, we can almost certainly write them off.

The other two nations have already nominated their teams and so the line-up is as follows: Linfield (Northern Ireland), Drita / Ballkani / Gjilani (Kosovo), Tre Fiori (San Marino), Engordany / FC Santa Coloma (Andorra).

What is the semi-final draw?

Tre Fiori (San Marino) v Linfield (Northern Ireland)

Drita / Ballkani / Gjilani (Kosovo) v Engordany / FC Santa Coloma (Andorra)

When and where will the games be played?

The two semi-finals will be played on August 8 with the final following on August 11. Normally one of the four nations involved hosts the tournament. 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.

What do we know about the other teams?

Linfield's first opponents 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.

In Kosovo, FC Drita have only played one season in Europe, coming in 2018, but it was a relatively successful journey as they won the Champions League preliminary tournament, beating FC Santa Coloma and Licoln Red Imps before being beaten 5-0 by Malmo in the next round and then being edged out by F91 Dudelange in the Europa League. Ballkani are playing in the top Kosovan division for only the third season and Gjilani have more pedigree with a Kosovar Cup win in 2000.

From Andorra, Engordany have progressed through a round of European competition in each of the last two seasons, beating San Marinese duo Folgore and La Fiorita in the Europa League. FC Santa Coloma have a rich history of European trips having made 16 previous qualifying campaigns. They have progressed through a round only once before, beating Armenian side Banants in the Champions League in 2014.

What happens for the rest of the European qualifiers?

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.

What's the prize money on offer?

We can't say exactly but we can estimate, based on last season's prize money.

If we take those figures, Linfield would bag €230,000 (£209k) for taking part in the Champions League preliminary round and could add another €280,000 (£254k) by winning the mini-tournament. Even if they are beaten, they will drop into the Europa League second qualifying round, where they would pick up an additional €260,000 (£236k). So Linfield are currently guaranteed at least €490,000 (£446k) in prize money, subject to tweaking from last season's figures.

The Irish League's other two European qualifiers would pick up  €220,000 (£200k) for playing in the Europa League preliminary round. Progressing though one round would yield an additional  €240,000 (£218k).

What are the dates for this year's European qualifiers?

Champions League

Preliminary round matches: August 8/11

First qualifying round draw: August 9

First qualifying round matches: August 18-19

Second qualifying round draw: August 10

Second qualifying round matches: August 25-26

Third qualifying round draw: August 31

Third qualifying round matches: September 15-16

Play-off draw: September 1

Play-off matches: September 22-23 / September 29-30

Europa League

Preliminary round draw: August 9

Preliminary round matches: August 20

First qualifying round draw: August 10

First qualifying round matches: August 27

Second qualifying round draw: August 31

Second qualifying round matches: September 17

Third qualifying round draw: September 1

Third qualifying round matches: September 24

Play-off draw: September 18

Play-off matches: October 1

Belfast Telegraph