Ger McCarthy

Uefa Champions League Second qualifying round draw (July 16/17 and July 23/24)

Sligo Rovers v Molde FK
Former Manchester United baby-faced assassin Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brings his Norwegian titleholders Molde FK to the Showgrounds for a glamour Champions League second qualifying round tie on July 16 or 17.
The Bit O’Red’s reward for claiming last year’s League of Ireland title is a two-legged affair against a Molde side that has claimed the Tippeligaen Norwegian Premier League crown for the past two years.
Things have not been going well this season however with Solskjaer’s side currently lying second from bottom and in serious relegation trouble after 13 rounds of fixtures.
Sligo’s manager Ian Baraclough has the distinction of being the solitary English manager in this season’s Champions League.  Baraclough will hope his side can carry their recent upturn in form - one defeat in their last ten domestic fixtures - into Europe’s premier football competition by gaining a positive result on home soil to take into the second leg at the Aker Stadion on July 23/24.
It is a tall order for Sligo as Molde made it to the group stages of last season’s Europa League having been ousted from the second round of Champions League qualifiers by FC Basle.
The Norwegian’s current domestic woes suggest Rovers will prove a stiff test for the Tippeligaen club and have a chance of pulling off a shock first-leg victory.


Celtic v Cliftonville
“Hell of a draw in the CL qualifier,” stated Neil Lennon’s official Twitter account and there is little doubt the former Northern Ireland international will be looking forward to making the short trip back home when Celtic and Cliftonville lock horns in the second qualifying round of this season’s Champions League.
Current Danske Bank Premiership title-holders, Cliftonville, will be delighted to have drawn such a big name but doubts remain whether Tommy Breslin’s side will be permitted to play their home tie at their home ground Solitude (approximate capacity 2,800) with Windsor Park and even Casement Park being mentioned as potential alternative venues.
The reigning Scottish Champions should emerge unscathed from this second round tie having enjoyed a marvellous 2012-13 European campaign that included unforgettable victories over Barcelona and Spartak Moscow before eventually bowing out in the round of 16 to Juventus.
Irrespective of the result, Cliftonville’s bank account will receive a welcome cash injection from the likely sell-outs over both legs.


Europa League first qualifying round draw (July 4 and 11)
VMFD Zalgiris v Saint Patrick’s Athletic

Saint Pat’s face a tricky European first round qualifier on July 4 against Lithuanian League runners-up VMFD Zalgiris who finished a point behind champions Ekranas.
Polish U21 international Kamil Bilinsk  was voted 2013 Zalgiris player of the year and is one player Pat’s will have to watch closely having netted 12 goals during the previous campaign.
Athletic currently sit top of the Airtricity Premier League having lost only three times this year and look certain to be in the mix for top honours with Sligo and Dundalk.
Pat’s also enjoyed a terrific run in last season’s Europa League before exiting the third qualifying round at the hands of Bundesliga outfit Hannover.
The winners of St Pat’s first round tie will meet the winners of Fk Teteks (Macedonia) or FC Pyunik (Armenia) in the second round.


Drogheda United v Malmo FF
Drogheda are enduring a difficult run and face a tough Europa League opponent in Swedish side Malmo who are four points behind Allsvenskan leaders Helsingborg in their domestic league.
Mick Cooke’s face side face an uphill task in making it through to the next round and will have to come up with a way of stopping Malmo’s dangerous striking duo; Tokelo Rantie and Magnuis Eriksson.
There is huge incentive for Drogheda to overcome Malmo in their opening qualifier as the winners have been drawn to face Pat Fenlon’s Hibernian in the next round.


KR v Glentoran, IF Fuglafjørdur v Linfield and Crusaders v Rosenborg BK
Danske Bank Premiership sides Glentoran, Linfield and Crusaders have been handed difficult Europa League assignments with Crusaders facing Rosenberg for a second year running. Glentoran take on KR having lost to the Icelandic club 5-2 on aggregate three seasons ago in the same competition. Linfield must travel to the Faroe Islands one again this season with IF Fuglafjørdur their opening round opponents.


Europa League second qualifying round

Trabzonspor v Derry City

The Candy stripes face a tough task in making the Europa League third qualifying round having drawn Turkish side Trabzonspor. A squad that included Didier Zokora amongst its ranks during the 2012-13 Turkish Super League campaign managed only a modest mid-table finish.
Trabzonspor qualified for the early rounds of this seasons’ Europa League by losing the Turkish Cup final to a Fenerbahce side that had already made it through to the Champions League qualifiers.

Follow Ger on Twitter: @germccarthy74