Teams both sides of the Irish border kicked off their European campaigns in the Champions League and Europa League last week with mixed results for the sides taking part.
One significant change in European football this season is that UEFA have approved the abolishment of the ‘away goals rule’, meaning that if the teams are level on aggregate at the end of the two legs the tie will no longer be decided by which side scored the most goals but will go to extra-time and if required penalties.
SSE Airtricity Premier Division and Danske Bank Premiership champions, Shamrock Rovers and Linfield respectively, were flying the flag for their leagues in the Champions League first qualifying round.
David Healy’s Belfast side travelled to Lithuania to take on Lithuanian champions, Zalgiris Vilnius, who are no strangers to Northern Irish opposition having taken on Lisburn Distillery in the Intertoto Cup back in 2005, the Lithuanians won that tie 2-0 on aggregate.
Unfortunately for Healy’s men they could not fare any better than Distillery did 16 years ago as goals from Hugo Videmont and a penalty from Tomislav Kis, followed by a Chris Johns own goal secured a comfortable win for Vilnius. Christy Manzinga did manage to get Linfield on the scoresheet to ensure the tie finished 3-1 and gives the Belfast men a slim hope of overturning the deficit when the sides meet again at Windsor Park tomorrow.
League of Ireland champions also travelled for their first leg tie to take on Slovakian champions Slovan Bratislava and also came away with a defeat leaving them with an uphill battle to make it through to the next round.
A brace either side of half-time from Brazilian forward Rafael Ratao secured a 2-0 win for the Slovaks before the sides do it all again at Tallaght Stadium tomorrow.
However the second legs go both Linfield and Rovers will be certain of another tie in Europe as sides knocked out of the Champions League at this stage will immediately drop into the Europa League qualifying stages.
Things look more hopeful in the Europa League as things stand with victories for Larne and Dundalk, draws for Glentoran and Bohemians and narrow defeats for Coleraine and Sligo leaving the chances high for sides both sides of the border to make it into the next round of the competition.
Larne were making their European debut and just had to make a short trip to Wales to take on Bala Town, it was a perfect start for Tiernan Lynch’s side as David McDaid was able to make the most of an early defensive mistake to score what proved to be the only goal of the game.
Dundalk’s win was more convincing with a 4-0 scoreline meaning Welsh outfit, Newtown, will something of a miracle when they welcome The Lilywhites for the return leg tomorrow. Dundalk’s goals came from Michael Duffy, David McMillan, William Patching and Han Jeong-uh.
Both Glentoran and Bohemians came from behind to secure draws in the first leg of their respective qualifying fixtures.
The Glens welcomed another Welsh side to The Oval in the shape of TNS, Leo Smith put the visitors into an early lead before Jamie McDonagh equalised for Mick McDermott’s side with less than ten minutes left on the clock.
Bohemians journeyed to Iceland to face Stjarnan and found themselves behind after 25 minutes to a Emil Atlason goal but Tyreke Wilson equalised for the Dublin men just after the hour mark to keep the tie alive ahead of the second leg later this week.
Coleraine took the lead in their away game against Velez Mostar thanks to a strike from Ben Doherty but a brace of penalties from Brandao de Souza turned the game on its head and gives the Bosnians the advantage going into the second leg. The Bannsiders also finished the game with ten men as Lyndon Kane was sent off for conceding the second penalty.
Sligo also have to come from behind in their home leg against Icelandic side FH who won the first leg virtue of a late goal from Scotsman Steven Lennon.
Just for the record here is a breakdown of the first leg results for the Irish sides: –
Champions League first qualifying round first leg results
Zalgiris Vilnius 3-1 Linfield
Slovan Bratislava 2-0 Shamrock Rovers
UEFA Europa League first qualifying round first leg results
Glentoran 1-1 TNS
Bala Town 0-1 Larne
Velez Mostar 2-1 Coleraine
Dundalk 4-0 Newtown
FH 1-0 Sligo Rovers
Stjarnan 1-1 Bohemians
And here are the details for the second leg fixtures: –
Champions League first qualifying round second leg fixture details
Linfield v Zalgiris Vilnius (Tuesday 13th July 2021 at 19:45)
Shamrock Rovers v Slovan Bratislava (Tuesday 13th July 2021 at 20:00)
UEFA Europa League first qualifying round second leg fixture details
Newtown v Dundalk (Tuesday 13th July 2021 at 17:45)
Sligo Rovers v FH (Thursday 15th July at 18:00)
TNS v Glentoran (Thursday 15th July at 18:15)
Larne v Bala Town (Thursday 15th July at 19:30)
Bohemians v Stjarnan (Thursday 15th July at 19:45)
Coleraine v Velez Mostar (Thursday 15th July at 20:00)