Fifty clubs will start off on the road to Bucharest on Thursday as the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League first qualifying round gets under way. Many are old hands in continental competition, especially in the formative stages, yet for five sides this is uncharted territory. UEFA.com profiles the newcomers hoping to make a grand entrance.
FK Banga v Qarabağ FK
Hailing from the small town of Gargzdai in western Lithuania, six years ago Banga were languishing in the third tier before local businessmen grouped together to spur them to greater things. By 2009 they were in the top flight and having installed national favourite Arminas Narbekovas as coach they embarked on a surprise run to the Lithuanian Cup final. They almost won it, too: they were 2-0 up in the showpiece before losing 4-2 to FK Ekranas. "We'll have to be at our best on this debut," said Narbekovas, whose side are sixth 16 games into the 2011 season. "But I know we're up against a good team, who've proved their ability in recent years."
KR Reykjavík v ÍF Fuglafjørdur
Founded in 1946, ÍF won the Faroese title in 1979 but have struggled to establish themselves in the top flight ever since. Their current stint is four seasons old and there are signs that this time it could be permanent: they reached the 2010 Faroese Cup final, losing 1-0 to EB/Streymur, and an added-time goal in the last match of the season against Víkingur clinched fourth in the league ahead of their opponents. ÍF are second from bottom after losing seven of their opening 13 games in 2011, yet Europe beckons and chairman Ólavur Larsen is confident: "We had a pre-season training camp in Iceland and played against two teams from the second tier. We were much better than them so I believe we have a chance against KR."
FC Dinamo Tbilisi v FC Milsami Orhei
Milsami were only founded last year as a memorial to the father of ambitious owner Ilan Şor. "He was an ardent football fan and passed his passion onto me," said the 24-year-old. "I want to help Moldovan football and support its development." Having assumed lowly FC Viitorul Orhei's top-flight status Milsami were soon making great strides, finishing a creditable third in their maiden campaign. "In one year we have established a solid team and family atmosphere," said coach Ştefan Stoica. "Bronze is pleasant, but it will be better if we progress through one or two rounds in Europe."
Aalesunds FK v Neath FC
Founded by the merger of Neath FC and Skewen Athletic FC in 2005, the club enjoyed instant success in Wales's second tier. Runners-up in their first season, the Eagles took the title the following campaign to earn promotion. Stability followed before, spearheaded by former Swansea Town AFC duo Kristian O'Leary and Lee Trundle, they finished third last term and then came through the five-team UEFA Europa League play-offs.
Paksi SE v UE Santa Coloma
On the banks of the Danube, Paks is more famous as the home of Hungary's sole nuclear reactor than as a hotbed of football, but that is changing. Established in 1952, the Green and Whites finally gained promotion to the top flight in 2006 and with their policy of fielding only Hungarian players, with an accent on talent from their home town, they have made impressive progress. They won the League Cup last season and thanks in no small part to 15 goals from attacking midfielder Dániel Böde, Paks finished second in the 2010/11 First League.
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