What to watch out for in the Europa League
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
From a band of Brennan brothers to old friends reunited via 5,000km bus journeys – UEFA.com picks out the things to keep an eye on in the first qualifying round deciders.
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All in the family
If St Patrick's Athletic FC emulate Shamrock Rovers FC in progressing to the second qualifying round then one Irish family in particular will have cause for celebration. Should eldest brother Killian Brennan, 31, start St Patrick's encounter with FC Skonto, who won the first leg 2-1, he will be the third sibling to have been involved in UEFA Europa League qualifying this week. On Tuesday, Gavin, 27, featured in Rovers' 3-0 defeat of FC Progrès Niederkorn. Having missed the teams' first meeting through injury, Ryan, the youngest of the three at 23, came off the bench.
"Hopefully we can all get through to the next round," Killian told UEFA.com. "I like my brothers to do well no matter who they are playing with. I don't like to see them lose and I'd hope they are the same with me." Incredibly, the Brennan clan also includes a fourth sibling playing top-flight football in the Republic of Ireland: 29-year-old Sean turns out for Drogheda United FC.
Harba's high hopes
One of the subplots to last Thursday's 1-1 draw between FK Olimpic Sarajevo and FC Spartak Trnava was the many reunions between players. No one less so than Spartak's Haris Harba, who spent 2011/12 at Olimpic. The former Bosnia and Herzegovina international is buoyant ahead of the return: "I played against my old club and we got the result we wanted. I anticipate an attacking game in front of our fans and we'll try to reach the next round."
Harba's old colleague Bojan Regoje is no less determined, however. "Spartak have an advantage, but we will not give up," he warned. "We are going to Trnava to surprise them." It would not be the first eyebrow-raiser in this tie: both first-leg scorers were also colleagues in 2011/12 – Olimpic's Dalibor Pandža and Spartak's Emir Halilović spent the second half of that campaign at Bosnian club NK Zvijezda.
Next stop: Klaipeda
The magic of the UEFA Europa League has touched 83-year-old PFC Beroe Stara Zagora fan Hristo Sakantiev. He had a 5,000km round trip by bus to watch the Greens win 2-0 in their first leg at FK Atlantas Klaipėda in Lithuania. He left Stara Zagora in central Bulgaria early on Tuesday and arrived in Klaipeda just hours before kick-off. He was rewarded with Beroe's first win in UEFA competition since 1980. He made it home on Sunday and is now looking forward to the return leg.
Newtown breaking new ground
The oldest club in this season's competition, Newtown AFC made history last week by clinching their maiden European win, and they hope to follow up that landmark with a first triumph over two legs. This is only the Latham Park side's third UEFA campaign, and they can expect a stiff test as they defend a 2-1 lead at Valletta FC. "The pressure is still on them," said travelling manager Chris Hughes. "They will expect to win, like we did [in the first leg]. But we've shown how good we are, what we are about, what our league is about."
Malta's Birkirkara FC and Valletta both retain high hopes. Birkirkara travel to Armenia to face Ulisses FC with the tie at 0-0 after failing to make their dominance count. The likely reward for the winners is a tie with West Ham United FC and Birkirkara will look to former Italian international Fabrizio Miccoli, who showed flashes of his talents when coming off the bench for his debut in the first leg. FC København await the winners of Valletta v Newtown.
Mucha strengthens Slovan
A FIFA World Cup hero with Slovakia in 2010, helping them through to the last 16, Ján Mucha has signed a four-year deal at ŠK Slovan Bratislava hoping to provide the same effect at club level. Holding a 6-0 first-leg lead over Gibraltar's Europa FC there is little danger of the club missing out on the second qualifying round.
The Sky Blues are looking further ahead, though. Having lost all six group stage games last season, it is hoped the 32-year-old goalkeeper can add some much needed experience. "The goalkeeper is the most important position. We need to fill the team with a reliable keeper who can help us to survive critical moments, especially for the European games," said club vice-president Ivan Kmotrík Jr.