Mid Cheshire Amateur won the central/west preliminary round after a decisive victory against Malta Amateur on Friday.
Malta proved to be no match for the English side as they won 4-0 in the final match on a rain-sodden pitch, but the other United Kingdom-based side in the tournament, Northern Ireland Amateur, failed to progress after a final-day, 3-2 defeat against their Slovenian hosts Primorska Amateur.
Stephen Davies converted two first-half penalties to put Mid Cheshire ahead in Koper, substitute Kevin Towey scored a third and Christopher Gahgan shot-cum-cross deceived Malta goalkeeper Kris Calleja to make it 4-0 to Nick Armitage's side.
"I never doubted my players' ability to win this stage and I am delighted for everyone involved," said the coach. "My backroom staff as well as our fans who travelled here deserve nothing but praise. All the clichés in the world could be used but today I am a proud man."
Northern Ireland, meanwhile, went down to Primorska in Sezeba. Gareth Sproule's deflected effort gave the visitors a tenth-minute lead but Matej Valencic headed an equaliser eleven minutes later. However, the dismissal of Northern Ireland's Mark Craig 13 minutes later proved a turning point.
Gary Bell restored Northern Ireland's lead after 39 minutes but Valencic levelled the scores in the second half, with Andrej Antoncic scoring what proved to be the winner in the 75th minute.
"The entire game changed completely after the sending off as we were completely dominant," said Northern Ireland coach Mervyn Bell at full time. "But overall the tournament was excellent and we are satisfied by my players commitment even though falling at the final hurdle is not an easy pill to swallow."
Northern Ireland miss out on the place in Group 2 set aside for the best runners-up in the two preliminary rounds after finishing with less points than central/east round runners-up Dacia Amateur of Romania. Mid Cheshire will now head into qualifying Group 3 of the competition in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Mid Cheshire started the tournament with a confident 4-1 win against Primorska with goals from Lee Pennington, Neil Boardman and Towey and a fine, long-range strike from Gahgan giving them a comfortable lead before Valencic scored a late consolation goal.
'We made mistakes'
"We played to our potential and I am delighted with the result," said Armitage. Primorska coach Danilo Sergas had no complaints: "The result reflects what happened on the pitch as we made mistakes and were made to pay for them."
Craig in command
Northern Ireland also started in fiery mood with a 4-0 win against Malta with Craig hitting a shot which was deflected into the Maltese goal by captain Clive Formosa for the first goal before scoring twice late on, either side of missing a penalty, only for Sproule to score from the rebound.
Malta coach J.J. Aquilina added: "We didn't deserve to concede four goals. We are looking forward to the next match and remain optimistic about getting a result."
He was right to do so, as Malta went on to record a 2-1 win against Primorska in their second game. Damir Mujkic gave Primorska an early lead only for Marlon Briffa to beat giant goalkeeper Dean Zunic twice late in the game. Meanwhile, the English and Northern Irish teams drew 0-0 in a fiercely contested second game in Dekani.
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