Skonto's European record
The Riga-based side established a European record by winning 14 consecutive Latvian First Division championships, after the first independent post-Soviet league of 1991. Norway's Rosenborg BK equalled the European landmark of 12 titles in a row before Skonto FC extended their run to give the Latvian side sole possession of that honour. Skonto last won the title in 2010 and Tamaz Pertia's men finished third last season.
West Ham United FC are renowned in England as the only club side in the world ever to win the FIFA World Cup – at least that is what their fans will tell you. To be fair, having supplied Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and final hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst to England's 1966 triumph the boast is not completely unfounded. Less well known is the fact that between 1964 and 1980 the Hammers scored in 27 successive European games, a record that stood until FC Barcelona broke it in 2011.
The trip to West Ham will provide the first UEFA club competition meeting of teams from Andorra and England. "It is the most important game in the history of the country at club level," said FC Lusitans coach Xavi Roura, whose side resumed training five weeks ago in a bid to hit the ground running. Lusitans have lost seven of their eight continental matches, their only draw coming two years ago at home to EB/Streymur in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round.
Birkirkara's ex-Italy forward
The Maltese Cup holders pulled off a transfer coup this summer with the signing of former ACF Fiorentina, US Città di Palermo, Juventus and US Lecce striker Fabrizio Miccoli. Capped ten times by Italy, the 36-year-old was paraded last week after arriving on the Mediterranean island following an eight-day training camp. "I came to Malta to win silverware," he told UEFA.com. "Initially I thought of quitting and, of course. Then – after talking with Birkirkara coach Giovanni Tedesco and my family – I decided to take up this new challenge. I love playing football."
Prolific striker Fabrizio Miccoli joins Birkirkara FC on a 1 year contract ! pic.twitter.com/4MQvpi3Nlx
— Birkirkara F.C. (@Birkirkara_FC) June 24, 2015
The Eagles have landed
The second-tier club have produced the likes of Raimond van der Gouw, Paul Bosvelt and Marc Overmars, and began life as Be Quick before becoming Go Ahead. Welsh coach Barry Hughes (who later had a pop career) suggested adding the suffix Eagles in 1971 and the stadium name was changed to Adelaarshorst (Eagles Nest). The Deventer-based outfit, who fly sea eagle Harley before home fixtures, face the Green Eagles – Hungarian Cup winners Ferencvárosi TC.
Trakai's Knights join the fray
Founded just ten years ago, the outfit from the historic city – with a population of less than 6,000 – only secured promotion to the top flight in 2014. Valdas Urbonas FK Trakai will seek inspiration from medieval times as they make their first first foray in European competition. In the 15th century, the rulers of the largest state in Europe resided at the island castle in Trakai. These days, the club continue the tradition of awarding 'knighthoods' in the city to their latest recruits.
Newtown, old club
The Welsh Cup runners-up are the oldest competitors in the UEFA Europa League, having been established in 1875. Christopher Hughes's Newtown FC, who lifted their first trophy 136 years ago, have been pitted against experienced European opposition in Maltese outfit Valletta FC. However, the Robins are preparing for only the third European campaign in their history.
If Newtown win their first round clash, they will face Euro giants FC Copenhagen in the next round! What a draw
— Newtown AFC (@NewtownAFC) June 22, 2015
Tommasi to fire Fiorita
Six years after hanging up his boots as a professional, Damiano Tommasi will make a remarkable return to UEFA club competition when SP La Fiorita take the field to face FC Vaduz. Now 41, the Scudetto-winner with AS Roma is ready to step back into the limelight with the Sammarinese club: "It will be an opportunity for my children to watch me playing again." La Fiorita will benefit if Tommasi can replicate some of his displays during his career. "I hope to add a beautiful chapter to my footballing career," added the ex-Giallorossi player.
Students' Europa education
Colin O'Neill's University College Dublin AFC – and Go Ahead Eagles – are the only second-tier sides in the draw. The Students, who qualified as Respect Fair Play entrants, will compete in Europe for the first time since 2000 (UEFA Intertoto Cup, first round) despite suffering relegation from the Irish Premier Division last season. UCD also competed in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round in 1984/85.
DID YOU KNOW? Two teams play in their domestic second division: Go Ahead Eagles and University College Dublin FC! pic.twitter.com/lQZ0VClnct
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) June 22, 2015
The best village side in Europe?
Balzan FC's remarkable rise from the second tier of Maltese football to the European stage will be complete when they make their continental debut against FK Željezničar. The ambitious club from a village with just 3,800 inhabitants boosted their squad by signing Malta international midfielder Ryan Fenech from Valletta FC but the real key has been coach Oliver Spiteri – a respected tactician in the local game.
The first qualifying round kicks off with three games on Tuesday before beginning in earnest with 48 first legs on Thursday.
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