Coleraine coach Oran Kearney who masterminded the Miracle of Maribor last week will not after all get his dream Europa League pairing against AC Milan. At least, not yet.
The draw for the second qualifying round takes place this morning at the House of European Football, Nyon, Switzerland (1100, UK time), and the Bannsiders have a realistic chance of meeting beatable opposition.
They have been placed in the draw’s Main Path, Group 3 with the potential of meeting any one of three seeded clubs. Motherwell (who ironically would not have been seeded had Coleraine not defeated Maribor), Copenhagen and English-based, Welsh club, The New Saints (TNS).
Coleraine would see their chances at around 50/50 should they come out of the hat against TNS.
The Welshmen have progressed in Europe fairly frequently over the past ten seasons, but until this year the scalps they’ve taken don’t make intimidating reading: two clubs from Gibraltar, and one from each of San Marino, the Faros and Kosovo.
Significantly though they’ve triumphed against a couple of Irish club sides too, Bohemians (4-1 on agg.) in 2010, and Cliftonville (2-1 on agg.) a year later, and just last week achieved their best-ever result in Europe, eliminating Slovakia’s MSK Zilina 3-1 (AET) at their 2,034-capacity, Park Hall ground.
But Oran Kearney will fancy his side’s chances should this be the pairing, particularly if it comes with home advantage.
The Bannsiders may also feel quietly confident should they draw Motherwell. Glentoran ran the Steelmen close last Thursday, before losing Seanen Clucas to a red card and a goal on the hour which led to a late collapse. Until then the Glens had held their own and had probably created the better chances in the game.
Copenhagen would be the toughest of the three potential options and therefore the one to avoid. The Danes reached their first-ever Europa League quarter-final a few short weeks ago, losing narrowly in extra time to a Manchester United penalty. This was after they had defeated Celtic 4-2 on agg. in the Round of 32.
Linfield who exited the Champions League following narrow defeat to Legia Warsaw a couple of weeks ago, have been placed in Champions Path, Group 1 for the draw. They too have a realistic chance to make progress.
The Blues will fancy themselves against Maltese champions Floriana, Andorran champions Inter Escaldes and wouldn’t be too put off to be paired with Finnish champions Kuopion Palloseura (KuPS) either. KuPS have eliminated Vitebsk (Belarus), Llanelli (Wales) and Maccabi Netanya (Israel) in recent seasons, but a recent 5-0 hammering by Molde FK in the Champions League 1st Qualifying Round is why they have ended up in the Europa League draw.
Inter Escaldes have only ever played a solitary European game, losing recently to Kosovans, Drita. Linfield would be a hot favourite should this pairing emerge. Likewise against Floriana. The Maltese have only ever progressed through a round of European football once - against Ekranas, of Lithuania, in 1993.
Linfield’s other potential opponents are much tougher and would see the Belfast side installed as outsiders.
Slovakia’s Slovan Bratislava, once upon a time Cup Winners’ Cup beaten-finalists, reached the group stages of the Europa League last season and would be fancied to topple Linfield, while Dundalk despite being in some disarray currently and with a new Italian management team, may well also prove to strong. Home advantage for the Blues against either though, could make things very interesting.
Of course the possibility of Linfield drawing Dundalk invokes painful memories of the 1979 encounter between the clubs at Oriel Park. A night of madness and shame for Irish football, it eventually led to a cross-border, cross-community initiative, the Dunfield Youth Project, which mended relations between the two clubs.
No such concerns then, this time around, should they come out of the hat together...