Yesterday the Europa League qualifying fixtures were announced were Switzerland and now the NIFL teams can start to prepare for their European campaign.
Oran Kearney’s Coleraine drew FK Spartak Subotica of Serbia who play in the Serbian SuperLiga and finished fourth last season. FK Spartak have qualified for Europe twice, once in 2010/2011 season. They beat Differdange 03 5-3 on aggregate in the second qualifying round but lost out to Ukrainian team Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 2-3 on aggregate in the third qualifying round. Their second qualification came last season. Coleraine qualified last year but lucked out in the first qualifying round when they lost 0-7 on aggregate to Norwegian club Haugesund. They did manage a 0-0 draw at home but were hammered 7-0 on the away leg. Although not an easy draw, Coleraine have showed great ability and tenacity and could very well go through to the second round of qualifying.
Glenavon FC have been paired with Norwegian side Molde. Gary Hamilton’s side finished third in the Danske Bank Premiership last season but have qualified for the Europa League every year since the 2014/2015 season. They haven’t managed to make it past the first qualifying round however being beaten by Icelandic clubs FH, KR Reykjavik and Belarusian side Shakhtyor Soligorsk. Their opponents Molde, runners up of the Eliteserien league are coached by ex-Man United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The 2018 season will their 42nd in topflight football in Norway so this will be a very tough round for Glenavon.
Cliftonville got their European Qualification break by beating Glentoran in the Play Off’s. Barry Gray’s side have been drawn against Danish side Nordsjaelland. Playing in the Danish Superliga, Nordsjaelland finished third last season and have European experience under their belt. The last time they qualified for Europe was back in the 2012/ 2013 when they won the Danish Cup and went to the first qualifying round of the Champions League, however have failed to make much of an impact in Europe. Cliftonville on the other hand have qualified for the Champions League 2nd round and the Europa League in previous seasons. Again this will not be an easy task for the Reds but anything can happen in the beautiful game!
The first leg of the fixtures are due to be played on the 12th July!