One year on from Miss Sarajevo – Celtic thoughts return to Europe

Hard to believe it’s been a year since that hugely emotional trip to Bosnia-Herzogovina to watch the Bhoys commence their 2019/20 Champions League campaign with a fine 3-1 win over local favourites FK Sarajevo.

Sadly, there will be no such early European trips this season, for well-documented reasons, with the Play-off looking like the earliest opportunity for supporters to attend, however, the games will be commencing from next month so, as always, I like to have a look at possible opponents.

From Celtic’s perspective, the first important date is Sunday, 9 August 2020, one month from yesterday. That’s when the draw will take place for the first qualifying round of the Champions League, a few hours before Celtic  take on Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in our second SPFL game.

The following day, Monday, 10 August, UEFA will also make the draw for the second qualifying round, meaning that a number of either/or scenarios will be presented to Celtic. And the next day again, Tuesday, 11 August, the Champions League preliminary round tournament will be completed in Nyon. This is a mini-tournament featuring the Champions of the four lowest-ranked nations in UEFA, with San Marino’s Tre Fiore competing with Linfield and the as-yet-unnamed representatives from Kosovo and Andorra for one spot in the first qualifying round.

Well, Celtic will be the top seeds for the first qualifying round, where there will be 17 ties played on a one-off basis, over the midweek 18/19 August 2020, between our home game with Aberdeen and the trip to Tannadice. Just before the draw, UEFA normally split these ties into three groups of seeds and non-seeds, so the number of teams you can potentially face will be narrowed down. Until a few years ago, this was easier to predict, as it tended to be split into north, central and southern European groups, hence the frequent visits to Ireland and Scandinavia. This has not happened over the past couple of seasons though, so as things stand, there will be 17 possible opponents for Celtic in the first qualifying round.

Confirmed already as non-seeds for this stage are the following 11 teams:

  • Buducnost Podgorica of Montenegro.
  • Flora Tallinn of Estonia. They were knocked out by Lincoln Red Imps in 2016, sending Celts to Gibraltar in Brendan Rodgers’ first game in charge of Celtic.
  • Dynamo Brest of Belarus. The club based near the Polish border won its first-ever national title, ending the run of perennial champions BATE Borisov at 13-in-a-row.
  • Riga FC of Latvia.
  • Connah’s Quay Nomads of Wales, who inflicted that infamous defeat on Kilmarnock at Rugby Park last season.
  • Europa FC of Gibraltar. The Rock’s own Green Machine were awarded the Champions League slot after the country’s first National League season was terminated in March.
  • Klaksvikar Itrotterfelag of the Faroe Islands.
  • KR Reykjavik of Iceland. They provided the opposition for Ronny Deila’s first venture into Europe with Celtic, with a Callum McGregor goal winning the first leg in Reykjavik.
  • Kuopion Palloseura of Finland.
  • FK Sileks of North Macedonia. They were 13 points behind Vardar Skopje when the Macedonian First Football League was abandoned due to COVID. Vardar had failed to obtain a UEFA licence last season, so I suspect there may have been a similar issue this time around. So, the possibility of ‘Selik versus Sileks’ looms large. I’ll get my coat.
  • Floriana of Malta.

Add to those 11:

  • The winners of the Preliminary tournament, as mentioned above.
  • The champions of Armenia. The top two sides, Ararat-Armenia and FC Noah, meet in a title decider next week, with hosts Ararat one point ahead.

The remaining four unseeded teams will be known once the final four League titles are settled over the coming weeks. These Leagues are in Romania, Poland, Slovenia and Albania, and the current position is as follows:

  • Romania. Defending champions CFR Cluj trail Universitatea Craiova by one point with four games remaining. By my reckoning, either of those teams would be seeded.
  • Poland. Legia Warsaw are eight points clear with three games to play, so are almost certain to win the title. They will be seeded.
  • Slovenia. Olimpija Ljubljana are four points clear of Celje with four games remaining. Olimipija would be seeded if they hold on to win, whilst Celje would not.
  • Albania. KF Tirana (1.475) are six points clear of Kukesi (5.5) with four to play. Tirana would be unseeded if they hold on.

So, if we assume no major shocks, the final four potential opponents for Celtic in the first qualifying round will be as follows:

Later today, I’ll look at the possible options for the second qualifying round, which will be drawn before the first round of games is played.

Hail Hail!

Matt Corr

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