Jun 29 2012

European Draw Reaction

Published by at 7:57 am under European

 

If you didn’t already know the European competitions were bloated, overblown affairs, the fact that the draws for this season’s have just been made – just a month or so after the last campaign’s finals – should put you in the picture. And yet, while I’m increasingly resistant to the hype and big-business aspects of these tournaments, I love the draws for the early rounds. When your team’s name is going into the hat alongside those of, say,Albania’s Skenderbeu Korce, or Kups Kuopio of Finland, you know you’re embarking on an exotic adventure. It’s not going to end in glorious victory eleven months on, but there might be some fun along the way.

 

Aspects of these draws have come to resemble a reunion. I’ve been paying attention to them for 13 years now, ever since the one that paired Sigma Olomouc with Sheriff Tiraspol in the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup. Sheriff always finish in Moldova’s top two so are no strangers to the early European rounds. They’re in the Champions League this season and will travel to Armenia on the 17th or 18th July for the first leg of their tie with FC Ulisses. FC Zestafoni (of Georgia) and FK Ventspils (of Latvia) are two other perennials of the draws, like former schoolmates who never miss the annual get-together. And every year, there are clubs who may have entered the competitions before, but whose names seem new, like CS Grevenmacher (from Luxembourg) or JJK Jyväskylä (Finland again). A groundhop that took in some of these outfits would be a wonderful thing indeed.

 

Slovakia’s representatives in this season’s competitions face, on balance, difficult qualifying round games, champions Žilina perhaps most of all. Their opponents in the Champions League second qualifying round are Israeli side Hapoel Ironi Kirjat Shmona. Hapoel (as I shall be calling them from now on) were founded in 2000 and won the first domestic title in their short history last season. The basis of their success is surely the wealth of owner Izzy Sheratzky, whose firm makes GPS systems and tracking devices for finding stolen cars. The squad has three Israeli internationals within it, as well as players from Argentina, Macedonia and Serbia. Captain Adrian Rochet insists that the real star last season was coach Ran Ben Shimon, but he has since moved on, to be replaced by Gili Landau. Žilina striker Tomáš Majtán admits that Hapoel were the opponents he and his team least wanted. It’s possible, then, that the Israelis, despite being unseeded in the draw, will start this tie as favourites.

 

Senica and Slovan Bratislava both face Hungarian opposition in the Europa League. Senica, who enter at the first qualifying round stage, are up against MTK Budapest. Both clubs were losing finalists in their respective domestic cup competitions last season, but MTK combined their knockout exploits with promotion from the second tier, to which they’d been relegated a year earlier. Established in 1888, and counting prominent members of the capital’s Jewish community among their founders, MTK have a rich history, which also includes 23 Hungarian championships. Their ground, the Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium, owes some of its fame to the film Escape to Victory, parts of which were shot there. On a personal note, I can also say that it’s one of the most ramshackle, weed-strewn venues I’ve ever visited and that the one game I’ve seen there – a 0-0 draw against Szombathely Haladás, played on an excrutiatingly cold day – is possibly the direst I’ve ever witnessed. Yet I’d go back like a shot! The first leg of the upcoming tie, which will be played in Slovakia, will be Zdeněk Psotka’s first competitive match in charge of Senica. As he says, the fact that (rather curiously) his side met MTK less than two weeks ago in a friendly at least gives him an idea of what to expect.

 

Slovan enter the Europa League one round later and find themselves up against Videoton Fehérvár, champions of Hungary in 2011 and runners-up last season. Like Žilina, you suspect that Slovan would have wished for a gentler beginning to their European campaign. Midfielder Marko Milinković is clearly anticipating two tough matches, suggesting that Videoton will be a stronger side than Győr, Slovan’s opponents in a January friendly. The Hungarian side is coached by Paolo Sousa, formerly of Swansea and Leicester, amongst others, and features several foreign players, including veteran defender Marco Caneira, winner of 25 Portugese international caps.

 

Slovan should play their first leg at home, but may switch their games, as Trnava are due to host their first leg against Ireland’s Sligo Rovers the same night. With respect to Sligo, who qualify by virtue of finishing second in the Irish league in the 2011 season, Spartak will probably be the happiest of the Slovak sides with the draw. Coach Pavel Hoftych is looking forward to the likely contrast between Sligo and the eastern European sides Trnava met in their run to last season’s Europa League play-off. As defender Luboš Hanzel points out, Hoftych will certainly ensure that Sligo are properly scouted. Given the chance, the Irish team enjoy scoring goals, as Galway United (beaten 8-0 and 7-1 in the 2011 campaign) will ruefully confirm. They may also enjoy a slight advantage in match fitness, as they are now approaching the halfway point of their league season, whereas the Slovak version will still be in its very early stages come mid-July. Even so, it would be a surprise if Trnava’s greater experience of European competition didn’t prevail over the coming two meetings.

 

 

Champions League 2nd Qualifying Round (17/18 and 24/25 July)

 

MŠK Žilina vs Hapoel Ironi Kirjat Shmona

 

Europa League 1st Qualifyng Round (5 and 12 July)

 

FK Senica vs MTK Budapest

 

Europa League 2nd Qualifyng Round (19 and 26 July)

 

Slovan Bratislava vs Videoton Fehérvár *

Spartak Trnava vs Sligo Rovers

 

*Venue of first leg to be confirmed.

 

 James Baxter

 

 

One response so far




One Response to “European Draw Reaction”

  1.   Jameson 29 Jun 2012 at 8:50 am

    Senica v MTK has been switched, ie 1st leg in Budapest. I think because Honved have a home leg on the 12th(?)

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