Saints count down for Europa clash

Reporter:

Gavin Grosvenor

THE New Saints will take on Europa FC in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League.

The Dafabet Welsh Premier champions host the Gibraltarian League winners on Tuesday, June 27 before embarking on the away leg the following week on July 6.

However the away leg will be switched to a Portuguese venue with no stadium which meets UEFA criteria in Gibraltar.

Despite the stringent licensing criteria imposed in Wales, Gibraltarian clubs have been permitted to compete in Europe despite lacking a UEFA approved facility.

Europa, known as the Green Machine, won the treble last season and have represented the British Overseas territory in Europe on three occasions.

Last season the club reached the second qualifying round of the Europa League before crashing 4-0 on aggregate to AIK Stockholm of Sweden.

The Saints go into the game as favourites with their professional squad up against a part-time club reformed as recently as 2014.

Awaiting the winners in the second qualifying round is HNK Rijeka of Croatia.

Interim Saints manager Scott Ruscoe said: “It’s not a bad draw logistically for us because it’s going to be close with direct flights, things like that.

“I’m just pleased we didn’t pick out the Armenian side or had to go to Kosovo, because that would have been difficult going into the unknown.

“We’ve seen enough of Europa FC, they’re a decent side and beat Lincoln to the title who were always thereabouts in qualifying for Europe.”

Ruscoe was relishing his first competitive game at the helm and happy to have home advantage first.

“We’re good at home. Touch wood, we can get off to a good start, we can suss them out but our clear message will be to play our normal way.”

Assistant Steve Evans endorsed Ruscoe’s sentiments as the first leg date approached.

“We are excited and happy. Whoever we would have drawn was going to be tough but we go into the game full of confidence. We’ve done our preparation and we’re looking forward to next Tuesday.”

TNS stepped up their preparations with a 1-1 draw against Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers this week.

An Alex Darlington strike earned the Welsh champions a morale boosting draw against a full strength Rangers side in a behind closed doors friendly at St Andrews.

See full story in the County Times

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