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European Football Qualifiers: Welsh Team Action

If you want to know what’s unlucky in football, try asking The New Saints manager Craig Harrison.

The Saints duly won the JD Cymru Premier title last season, for the 15th time, and were seeded for the UEFA Champions League qualifiers this year on account of some creditable recent exploits in Europe.

What they could not have imagined when they entered the pot, was that they would be drawn to play the champions of Sweden, BK Hacken, who have not been given a seeding as they were surprise winners of their domestic league.

“When was the last time a Swedish champion was unseeded?” says Harrison, who team are in Gothenburg for the first leg on Wednesday evening at 6.00pm.

“The lads have worked really hard to get to this opportunity and it’s just a little bit unfortunate that we’ve been given a really, really tough draw.

“I wouldn’t say it was deflating but it’s certainly a challenge, but a challenge we’re looking forward to.

“We’ve been preparing as best we can and looking to try and get a result in Hacken.”

It’s not just the fact that Hacken are full-time professionals that makes The New Saints big underdogs – they are 16/1 to win with DragonBet and 13/2 for the draw, with the Swedes 1/8.

Also in the home club’s favour is that their domestic league is a summer affair, meaning they are battled-hardened and match-fit, coming off the back of a 2-1 win against AIK last Sunday.

“You look at the Swedish league and they’ve got some good teams in there – Gothenburg, Stockholm, Malmo, Elfsborg – all recognised teams and to beat them to the title was a big achievement,” says Harrison.

The winners will progress to the second qualifying round against either Ki Klaksvík of the Faroe Islands or Hungarian side Ferencvaros.

The losers of the tie will go into the Europa Conference League second qualifying round and will face Slovakia’s Slovan Bratislava or Swift Hesper of Luxembourg.

But if the task facing TNS is difficult, at least they have been this way before. Spare a thought for Penybont, who are in European action for the very first time when they host FC Santa Coloma at The Brewery Field in Bridgend on Thursday night.

The Europa Conference League qualifying first leg tie at least pits Penybont against one of the smaller nations, since Santa Coloma – although big cheeses in their own league – are from the tiny state of Andorra

Rhys Griffiths’ side qualified for Europe for the first time in the club’s history having finished third in the Cymru Premier.

Two other Welsh clubs are in Europe Conference League action on Thursday, with Connah’s Quay Nomads away at KA Akureyri of Iceland.

The Nomads, like The New Saints, have some European pedigree, but it will be the first time for 19 years when Haverfordwest County travel back into European football.

Tony Pennock’s side battled through the Cymru Premier play-offs and their reward is a first leg tie out North Macedonia when they take on Shkendija – four times national champions.

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