Motherwell Have Lofty Task in Europa League

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Motherwell will have their hands full defensively tomorrow night when they face Norway’s Aalesunds FK who have a 6 foot 8 1/2″ striker Tor Hogne Aaroy leading their line. Although not an overly prolific scorer he is certainly going to cause problems in the air. Aalesunds are currently 4th in the Norwegian Tippeligaen and as such will have to be respected. Craig Brown is expected to name the same squad that beat Breidablik in Iceland last week but they will need to play a lot better than in that game if they are to advance to the next stage. Success for the Scottish clubs is becoming vital if they are to maintain their UEFA ranking. They are currently close to losing their second Champions League spot and given the parlous state of Scottish footballs finances that could have severe repercussions.  

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Celtic Trailing At Half Time Against Braga

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Celtics dismal European away form looks likely to continue as they trail in 1-0 down against Braga in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying round. I would like to say they will come back in the second half, but they are not playing well and if anything Braga look likely to add to their lead. Still with only 3 European away wins since 2001 this shouldn’t come as a major surprise to hoops fans. For the record the Braga goal came from a penalty by Osorio Alan following a hand ball by Sung-Yong Ki.

I fear the tie could end up being beyond Celtic if they play like this in the second half.  

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CSKA Sofia Effectively End Cliftonville’s European Adventures

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Despite a valiant effort it now looks highly unlikely that Northern Irish side Cliftonville will be advancing in the Europa League, due to CSKA Sofia grabbing two late goals in their 1st round tie.

Cliftonville were only 1-0 down with over 70 minutes on the clock, despite having been under almost constant pressure, and at this stage it looked like the Irish side could go into the home leg with a real chance. However as they started to tire first Brazilian Marcos Marquinhos and then Rumen Trifonov scored to give Cliftonville a mountain to climb in the second leg.

The score in no way flattered CSKA and had it not been for some heroic defending including a superb double goal-line clearance Ciaran Donaghy then the score could have been worse.

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The New Saints Face Uphill Struggle after 1st leg Defeat

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Welsh Champions The New Saints (TNS) lost 3-1 in their home leg against Belgian champions Anderlect in front of a disappointing crowd of only 2486. TNS were Behind after 7 minutes thanks to a goal by United States international Sacha Kljestan, and soon after they found themselves 2-0 down; effectively ending the tie.

Craig Jones gave the Welsh side brief hope when he made up for an earlier bad miss by smashing in Scott Ruscoe’s cross, but this only spurred Anderlect into further action and they made the game safe in the 73rd minute when Argentinian striker Martias Suarez scored their third.

Despite effectively being eliminated now TNS have done brilliantly to get this far and it is sad that the people of Wales have failed to get behind them in this historic occasion for the club. Hopefully such apathy will not be repeated in the second leg and the Anderlect fans will turn out to help boost The New Saints earning from their European Adventures.

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Celtic Face Braga in Champions League Qualifying Round

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Glasgow Celtic, who by their standards are having an indifferent spell of form have been handed a tough draw in the Champions League 3rd qualifying round, having to take on Portuguese league runners up Sporting Club Braga.  Although not a widely known team outside of their home country Braga are past European winners having won the Inter Toto Cup in 2008-9 and last season recorded their highest ever league finish. Much of their success was down to their excellent home form, they won 14 of their 15 home games last season and only conceded 6 goals.

Celtic are poor European travelers and will probably be thankful for the fact the 1st leg is away, so letting them know what they need to achieve in the second leg. They will take some confidence from the fact that Braga lost 5-3 on aggregate to Hearts in 2004, and last season were soundly beaten by Swedish side IF Elfsborg at this stage.

However Braga have improved dramatically of late and with the addition of some talented Brazilian players they now have a squad which could make it to the group stages. If Celtic are to progress they will need to keep the away leg close and hope that a packed Parkhead crowd can roar them to victory, and given their current financial state failure is not an option as there is no Europa League group place for the losers of this one meaning another potential nerve racking playoff.

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The New Saints v Anderlect Champions League Qualifier

If you had told the connections of TNS 15 years ago when they were in the process of stepping up from Amateur status that in the new century they would be playing against Anderlect in the European Champions League 3rd qualifying round you might have been asked what you had been drinking. However on Tuesday night The New saints will be flying the flag for Wales when they take on the Belgian Giants at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground. Not that this will be their 1st big European night, having played Manchester City in the UEFA cup and most notably Liverpool in 2005. Despite being 3-0 down from the 1st leg in the home tie they gave Liverpool quite a battle with Steven Beck hitting a post and Marc Lloyd Williams having a goal controversially ruled out for offside. At this stage Liverpool were only 1-0 up on the night and although they eventually grabbed 2 late Steven Gerrard goals to make the score respectable TNS were never overawed.

Anderlect are the reigning Belgian champions finished the season with 5 wins and a draw. So providing they come with the right attitude should be far too strong for TNS, who will do well to hold out for a draw. Much as we would like to see them progress the bookies have probably got it right making the Belgians 1/4 to win in Wales. However TNS will be well pleased with a nice cash windfall, which should help them continue with their impressive progression as a professional club. Tickets are only £10 and they are giving 2000 kids tickets away free if you fancy watching the match ring 01978 262129 to see if there are any tickets left.

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Bangor City Reach Europa League 3rd Qualifying Round

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Welsh Premier League side Bangor City came from a goal down to win 2-1 scoring a 90th minute winner against Finnish Premier league side FC Honka. Under pressure for most of the game they fell behind after 21 minutes when Sampo Kokinen scored and at this stage the neat Passing of Honka looked like it would be too much for the Welsh Side. However on 84 minutes Bangor struck the equaliser via midfielder Dave Morley and then to the delight of the majority of the 954 crowd, man of the match Chris Jones got on the end of a hopeful cross to snatch a dramatic win.

This is the first time a Welsh Premier League side has reached the 3rd Qualifying round and they will be rewardedwith a money spinning trip to Madeira to take on Portuguese first division side CS Maritimo. 

 Maritimo knocked Ireland’s Sporting Fingal out in round 2 but did conceded 4 goals in the process so Bangor will travel in hope knowing that a battling performance of similar magnitude could set up another great European night in Wales.

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Shamrock Rovers Get Dream Tie Against Juventus

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A solitary goal from Thomas Stewart was enough to see Shamrock Rovers gain a glamour tie against Twice European Champions Juventus in the Europa League Third Qualifying round.  In muggy conditions Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC looked the most likely side to score, but Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus had a great game saving several times as the Israeli side pushed forward somewhat unnecessarily given they had the away goal. Then with 20 minutes to go Stewart pounced on a flick on from a long throw to stab the ball home.

The other Irish sides had mixed fortunes with recently formed Sporting Fingal losing 3-2 to Martimo again for a 6-4 aggregate loss, while Portadown crashed out to FK Qarabag who scored a late goal to secure a 3-2 aggregate win.  Glentoran were always going to struggle against Icelandic League Leaders Reykjavik after losing the first leg 3-0, however they salvaged a little pride with a 2-2 draw, unlike Dundalk who were hammered 8-0 on aggregate by Levski Sofia. However Dundalk did get through the 1st round qualifier so have a European Victory to their name this season.

However it was not all doom and gloom as Cliftonville hung on away to HNK Cibalia to qualify 1-0 thanks to Ciaran Caldwell’s goal in the 1st leg. The reward a very tough if unglamourous tie against Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia.

Unfortunately it is very unlikely that either side will progress any further but still its nice to see two Irish clubs progress this far and even better that each side of the border will have a team to cheer.

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The New Saints Set Up Historic Date With Anderlect

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In front of a partly crowd of 1056 recently formed Welsh Champions The New Saints FC overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Bohemian FC to reach the Champions League third qualifying round where they will meet Belgian Giants RSC Anderlecht.

Three goals in the first 20 minutes courtesy of Craig Jones, Matthew Williams and Chris Sharp effectively ended the tie before half time, and Williams grabbed the 4th with 17 minutes to go so putting the finishing touches to their first ever aggregate win in Europe.

TNS who were originally known as Total Network Solutions prior to their merger with Oswestry Town are no strangers to big European Nights, despite having never previously won a European tie.

In 2005 they player Liverpool losing both games 3-0, but attracting crowds of 8009 for the home leg played at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground Stadium and an impressive 14,563 for the game at Anfield.

In 2003 they lost 7-0 on aggregate to Manchester City in the UEFA Cup 1st Round, and they could meet them again if as expected they lose to Andertect in their Champions League tie. As 3rd Qualifying round losers they will still qualify for the Europa League Playoffs, which includes Man City and other British Clubs Aston Villa and Dundee United. Whatever happens TNS will end this season with a slightly higher profile and a considerably bigger bank balance that when they started.

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No Luck For Linfield In Champions League

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Linfield started this Champions League qualifier as 7-1 underdogs against Rosenborg, having rode their luck a bit to gain a 0-0 draw in their home leg and even their own players acknowledged that they would need a lot of luck to make it through to the 3rd Qualifying round for the first time.

However with 30 minutes on the clock the fairy tale looked on for Linfield, when striker Brian McCaul found himself clean through on goal with only the keeper to beat. Unfortunately the “Luck of the Irish” was not with him and he lost his balance at the key moment shooting wide.

Ironically within 60 seconds Radi Prica headed Rosenborg in front and the Norwegian titleholders never really looked troubled there after. Linfield did try to rally in the second half but never really threatened the Rosenborg goal and Markus  sealed the Norwegians win in the 87th minute. Rosenborg will now play Sweden’s AIK who themselves just sneaked past Luxembourg side Jeunesse Esch.

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