Saturday 1 June 2024 at Wembley. That’s the end of the road. The Champions League final. But the journey is already long underway in the distant outposts of Europe. Never one to ignore the more obscure corners of the football universe, Scott Robson will chart the path for TF in his regular CL Diary.
Got your passport sorted yet?
Taken a half day to watch Andrea Pirlo and Patrick Vieira pull out the balls in Switzerland on 31 August? I’ve know idea if it will be those two but, either way, that would be some midfield in the kick around afterwards.
Twenty-six teams have already qualified and last week UEFA give us a sneaky peek of the seedings.
Pot One isn’t necessarily as fearsome as you would think. Ok, Manchester City and Bayern Munich, and even Napoli, yeah you would expect them to reach at least the semi-finals, but you wouldn’t be against drawing Feyenoord, Benfica, Sevilla or even Barcelona as the best team in your group.
Pot Two – which consists of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Internazionale, Dortmund, Atletico, Leipzig, Porto, and Arsenal – not only gets the juices flowing but also shits on the one above. In my humble opinion, of course. I Haven’t seen Liverpool yet.
Pot Three or Four is where we reside, alongside Celtic, Real Sociedad, Union Berlin and Lens.
God, it’s great isn’t it! Pick your group and get very excited.
We haven’t been in this competition for twenty years and the fact we haven’t had to qualify is a massive relief. Anyone who saw us lose a qualifier to Partizan bloody Belgrade will agree with me that that night started the slippery slope that ended in relegation six years later.
For no other reason than because we are class/ play in the richest league in the world (delete where appropriate), that jeopardy has long gone now, but others are not so lucky.
In the build up to 31 August, I’m going to keep you updated with the qualifying campaign which started on 27 June only a few weeks after Manchester City lifted the trophy.
78 teams from 53 countries.
First Round qualifying began this Tuesday, on 11 July, and saw the likes of Wales’ New Saints and Northern Ireland’s Larne enter the fray before the Second Qualifying round on 25 July.
Third Qualifying appears on 8 August before the final play off round on 22 August.
Some big teams are in those early draws.
Galatasaray, Panathinaikos, and Copenhagen all appear in the second qualifying round, and any of those could play the delights of Hamrun Spartans, Lincoln Red Imps, Swift Hesperange or everyone’s favourites, FC Quarabag.
In the play-off stage, Marseille and PSV Eindhoven, both former winners, are among some really big clubs.
As far away as you can get from the fervour and atmosphere of our first Champions League game at St James’ came the very first part of the tournament a couple of Tuesdays ago.
In their infinite wisdom, Uefa have decided to pit the worst-rated teams from the worst-rated countries against each other in a mini-tournament played in a town in north west Iceland.
And you think it was a pain the Conference league final was in Prague?
Two of Andorra’s Escaldes, Podgorica of Montenegro, San Marino’s Tre Penne, and Iceland’s very own Breidablik move on to the next stage after the weirdest competition since the Anglo Italian Cup. A bit like Gladiators but with awful teams. Awooga!
Want to know the scores? Of course you do.
Escaldes 0-3 Podgorica
Tre Penne 1-7 Breidablik.
So it was Montenegro v Iceland in the final on 30 June. And… drum roll… that finished in an easy 5-0 win for the land of Bjarni Gudjonsson, whose representatives go to Dublin to play Shamrock Rovers, Ireland’s great hope.
You’ll be delighted to learn that I’m going to gleefully go through the qualifying rounds by following whoever the winner of preliminary final and whoever wins the next and so on. It will be a rollercoaster ride and one which I certainly am strapping myself in for.
If they do end up doing the impossible and getting through to the group stage (clue, they won’t) you will be able to impress your friends by saying you know all about them. I will guarantee that.