The qualification process for next season’s Champions League gets under way on Tuesday, with Northern Ireland champions Linfield among those teams in action.
It is the first of four qualifying rounds, before a play-off to determine who reaches the group stages.
While that is realistically unattainable for most teams participating at this stage, there is always the chance of Europa League football for some and this marks the start of a gruelling campaign for many clubs as they aim to fulfil their European dreams
Linfield set for Tricky Opener
Tuesday sees Linfield in action for the first time since May 29th as they travel to Lithuania to face Zalgiris Vilnius.
David Healy’s men won the title last season, which was their third in a row domestically, finishing five points ahead of Glentoran.
However, Europe will prove to be a sterner challenge and they encounter a side who have been in action recently owing to the scheduling of the Lithuanian league.
Zalgiris are unbeaten in their previous four matches since Linfield played, while the latter have also lost their top scorer Shayne Lavery to Blackpool upon the conclusion of the season, so enter this game without their biggest threat.
Zalgiris can be backed at
10/31 to win the first leg and give themselves an advantage.
Connah’s Quay to Edge Armenian Opponents
Welsh outfit Connah’s Quay Nomads have been underdogs in the past and triumphed against the odds.
Two years ago, they came from behind to defeat Kilmarnock in qualification for the Europa League, with the current Welsh champions displaying spirit throughout.
Their opponents on Wednesday are Armenian outfit Alashkert, who Celtic faced three years ago.
Like Connah’s Quay, Alashkert won their domestic league and will go into the game feeling confident, though home advantage should help Andy Morrison’s men, who have lost only one competitive game on home turf since September.
They will also have to be mindful of the second leg where temperatures are likely to be in the mid-30s, meaning a first-leg advantage will certainly pay.
Connah’s Quay can be backed to win at
Shamrock set for Tough Test
Shamrock Rovers enter the Champions League qualification phase when they travel to Slovakia on Wednesday to face Slovan Bratislava.
The Dublin-based side ended a nine-year wait for a league title in 2020 and are currently locked in a three-way tussle for the 2021 title with St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers.
They face one of the seeded teams in Slovan, who dominated their domestic league last term and who possess a solid record at home, losing just three times in the whole of last season.
Shamrock will have an advantage in terms of match sharpness – the League of Ireland being a summer league as opposed to the Fortuna Liga, which ended on May 22th.
However, Slovan have that extra experience and know-how at this level and should win the first leg, though if it remains close then Shamrock have every chance of success when the second leg is brought back to the Tallaght Stadium.
Slovan can be backed at
20/39 to triumph in the first leg.
*All odds correct at time of writing