The last few nights have saw some sensational European Championship football, its fair to say . it doesn’t matter if we have got a fervent allegiance to any of the sides , it was gripping.
You couldn’t keep your eyes off it.
The glitz, the glamour of a major international tournament was a far cry from another UEFA competition which started in earnest though. Buried away from the view of the public like an illegitimate child to Boris Johnson, this week saw the blink and you miss it first qualifying round of the Champions League and it really was as far away from Italy/Spain/Denmark/England as you could get.
The Champions League really never stops. It actually started in June. Less than a month after Manchester City’s arses went against Chelsea. The 4 representatives from the lowest ranked countries on the continent fight it out in a mini tournament to join the first qualifying round. Talk about prizes.
— NUFC Supporters Trust (NUST) (@nufctrust) July 6, 2021
As it happened Kosovo’s Pristina won the cup against Andorra’s best, after San Marino and Faroe Islands couldn’t hack it in the most hollow competition in the world. This was all done as the group stage turned into knockout in Euro 2020. Got to be honest , never really looked like the Faroes team was doing anything in the June heat of Albania where this was held.
Incredible arranging by UEFA there, in these covid times.
This brings us to this week as the competition started in earnest as lower ranked teams got at each other all across Europe in the hope that they might get through and meet a big boy. These teams have the same chance of getting to the group stage as I have of winning the euro millions and I don’t put the lottery on.
But this is massive for every team involved and to see them all shoved into playing in blazing heat in ridiculous travelling conditions and made to feel about as wanted as gonorrhea by UEFA is sad but not surprising in any shape or form. The governing body who came out holier than thou when the super league breakaway came calling , have not wanted these teams around for years and they don’t really hide the fact.
I get the logistics are hard. Thirty years ago a Cypriot team would get a chance of playing at Anfield or the San Siro because the numbers were low, but now we have so many countries part of UEFA ,
if you think of the ex- Soviet Union, Yugoslavia or even Czechoslovakia, it’s a free for all. All these teams are Champions though. They have battled on rutted, frozen pitches, beaten the nearest rivals and scored that crucial last minute winner to win the countries title. More than 4th place Juventus did eh?
The last few days have saw games in Israel (playing a team from Kazakhstan), Georgia, Aberystwyth, Bulgaria , Helsinki and where were you when Fola Esch drew 2-2 with Lincoln Red Imps?
Loving the Italian press I suppose? turncoats.
Newcastle interest came in the form of Ferencvaros who after beating us in Budapest got well and truly pulled apart at St James when Ginola scored possibly the best goal I’ve ever seen.
They are 3-0 up against the already mentioned Pristina and who knows if any of the goals were as good as that Ginola one. It would take some doing. What of the British and Irish interest I hear you say? Linfield went to Vilnius in Lithuania and lost 3-1 but might fancy the Windsor Park second leg, but with no away goals this year (I think) may make it harder.
Connahs Quay Nomads drew 2-2 at home against a local rival, Alashkert of Armenia and now face the 2,500 mile return visit. With a travel ban on. We thought Southampton on New Years day was a killer.
Shamrock Rovers , who got one of the toughest draw , were beaten 2-0 by Slovan Bratislava but not disgraced .
— NUFC Supporters Trust (NUST) (@nufctrust) July 2, 2021
This is a niche market I know but its something to behold, get a look at the team names , the countries and the hammerings. Like the Tyneside Sunday League but hot.
Dinamo Zagreb’s reward for making a mockery of Tottenham’s attempt to be ‘super’ last season in the Europa League is being dumped in this stage when Mourinho is messing about on a moped in Rome,
While Cluj of Romania who always beat Celtic and were in the group stage two years ago were also in ,as well as Legia Warsaw. Massive clubs in countries not on the UEFA green list unfortunately.
The second legs take place next week and the big guns like the teams above, then become the small fry and this goes on ad nauseum on until the group stage in September.
On July 20/21st the qualifying second round takes place . Three European Cup winners in Celtic, PSV Eindhoven and Red Star Belgrade all line up as well as Olympiakos , Rapid Vienna and Sparta Prague.
These are genuine institutions in the countries they play, but before they get to rub shoulders with the fourth best teams in the heavyweight leagues they must win three rounds.
The final in St Petersburg must seem a long way away , but Ajax almost did the impossible a couple of years ago and reached the final from qualifying, but in these years of covid lean squads, it’s no shock that the two richest teams played last year against each other in the final.
The other side of the coin though is these sides that have played this week already lord it over rivals in the domestic leagues, using what they earn from these early rounds to batter the other small teams into submission.
All the way down you have an unlevel playing field. Linfield for example have earned enough to go full time meaning a massive advantage over most teams in the Irish Premiership.
That’s one thing UEFA do well at this stage, they PAY well.
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— NUFC Supporters Trust (NUST) (@nufctrust) June 8, 2021
Teams get eye watering amounts of money at this stage. Whether it’s a kiss off, a golden handshake to go quietly or take your money and go is a good poin,t but the sums will change the lives of the teams, grounds and players at these clubs. An attempt by UEFA to stop corruption really, as these games were high on the list for betting syndicates. Players were earning more to score a hooky own goal than the pride of the champions league, so this is how it works, using our old mates Connah’s Quay as an example.
If they win a champions league tie you get £1.4m . You get a minimum £600,000 for competing in the rounds and if they happen to lose they will enter the new UEFA Conference league with £300,000 for competing in that.
If you dare win a game in that competition (more of that another day) it’s the same amount of money.
So if you get hammered 15-0 over two legs you walk into the conference league with £1m in your sky rocket. You can see how that sort of money can change a team and get a president to concentrate on the football rather than a bet. To put it into context though, you get £18m for qualifying for the group stage. Still though, feed the peasants.
So I’d thoroughly suggest looking at the scores next week. Get to know your Bodo Glimts from your Ludogorets Razgrads . For all we know we might play them in Europe soon. Actually now I really am getting carried away, no chance of us playing Pristina.