It seems like it was only a few weeks ago that we crowned Chelsea as the winner of the 2018-19 Europa League. And just like that, as most leagues across Europe have completed their competitions and have turned their focus to improving their clubs for next season, the smallest clubs of Europe will be kicking off next year’s edition of Europa League, with the Preliminary round scheduled to begin on 27 June 2019.
It’s extremely unlikely that any of these clubs will make it to 2020 in europa League, let alone the final at Stadion Energa Gdańsk in Gdańsk, Poland 27 May 2020. But as someone that likes to look at the Small Clubs of Europe from time to time, I felt it was appropriate to take a look at the fourteen Preliminary round clubs, and what they had to do to find a home in Europa League this year.
This is their only shot at European competition this year (there isn’t another tournament to move to when they lose like in the Champions League), so they’ll want to make the best of it. And unlike the Champions League, which only advances one club from the preliminary round, the seven winners of the two-leg matchups will advance on to the first qualifying round, where they join 87 other qualifiers.
Here’s a brief look at the clubs, how they reached Europa League, and how they have fared in their most recent European competitions and their matchup in the Preliminary round (with seeded team listed first). Leg one will be played on 27 June, with leg two on 4 July:
La Fiorita gained entry in the tournament as the runner-up in the Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio in San Marino (behind Tre Penne). They haven’t found much success in European competition, however, scoring one goal (while allowing 47) over 15 matches with a 0-1-14 record since the 2012-13 season, never advancing past their entry round. But they will be seeded in the preliminary matchup, which means they get the second match at home, so maybe this is the year they advance?
The second Andorran club in Europa League, Engordany punched their ticket by winning the Andorran league cup (the Copa Constitució) this season. This will be their second consecutive season in Europa League (their only two seasons in European competition), and they made quite a debut last season. They advanced out of the preliminary round, defeating San Marino’s Folgore, but lost to Kairat of Kazakhstan 10-1 on aggregate in the next round. Icarus flew a bit close to the sun, apparently.
Progrès Niederkorn finished 4th in the Luxumbourg National Division, returning to Europa League for the third straight season. Last season, they made it all the way to the third qualifying round with a 2-1-3 overall record, losing to Russian club Ufa. In fact, they’ve made it past their first round each of the past two competitions, making them one of the favorites to advance this year as well.
The Archers of CMU finished 7th during the regular season of the Welsh Premier League, then won the Europa League playoffs (over the aforementioned Bala Town) to head to Europe for the first time ever. Probably another one-and-done club.
Cliftonville finished fifth in the NIFL (Northern Ireland) Premiership this season, and won their place in Europa League by winning a playoff. They bounced out of Europa League in the first qualifying round last season, but they managed to reach the second round on their prior trip during the 2016-17 competition, defeating Luxembourg’s Differdange 03 and losing to Cypriot club AEK Larnaca.
The 3rd-place finisher in the Welsh Premier League, Barry Town United returns to European competition for the first time since an appearance in the 2003-04 Champions League. Expect a short stay, as they have never advanced past their qualification round the previous 12 times they’ve played in Europe.
Europa were champions of the Gibtelecom Rock Cup held among clubs from Gibraltar (they also finished second in the Gibralter Premier Division). They’ve played in European competition every season since Gibraltar joined UEFA, beginning with the 2014-15 Europa League. Only once – the 2016-17 Europa League – have they advanced beyond their qualifying round, compiling a 2-1-9 record with a -20 goal differential (7 goals scored; 27 goals allowed). Definitely one of the weaker squads in the competition, though a frequent participant nonetheless.
Sant Julià finished runner-up in Andorra’s Primera Divisió this season and will be playing in Europa League for the third consecutive season. The last two seasons have been less than stellar, with four losses by a combined score of 10-1. But that goal, scored last season against Gżira United in the second leg of their preliminary round matchup, was their first goal in European competition since 2009, so progress?
NSÍ Runavík joins the competition as the runner-up (to HB Tórshavn) in Faroe Islands Premier League. This will be their fifth straight season in Europa League, and they have yet to advance past their qualification round. They haven’t won a Europa League match since a 4-3 win against Linfield in 2015-16, and have been outscored 25-6 in the seven matches since.
Ballymena United finished second in Northern Ireland and will be playing in Europa League for only the second time (they previously played in Europe in precursor versions of the “modern” Europa League). Their previous trip was during the 2017-18 iteration, and they lost to Norwegian club Odd during the first qualifying round. Sometimes, it’s a pleasure just to be nominated, and the club will hope to take a lot from their European experience back to league play next season.
Also joining from the Faroe Islands is 4th-place finisher KÍ Klaksvík (3rd-place B36 Torshavn won the Faroe Islands Cup and will be joining next round). This will be their third straight season in Europa League, and they even made it past the preliminary round last season, defeating Maltese club Birkirkara before losing to Lithuania’s Žalgiris in the first qualifying round. They are a respectable 1-3-2 over the past two seasons and should be favored this round.
Tre Fiori won the Coppa Titano, the league cup in San Marino, and thus punched their ticket to Europa League for the second consecutive season. They too advanced past the preliminary round last season, defeating Welsh club Bala Town, before losing to Rudar Velenje of Slovenia 10-0 on aggregate in the next round. The home win against Bala Town was their first ever win in European competition.
The final seeded club in this round is Football Superleague of Kosovo runner-up Prishtina. Kosovo is relatively new to UEFA competition, and this will be only the third season for the Kosovan clubs. Prishtina has played in all three seasons, and even advanced past the qualifying round last season (defeating Europa), joining Drita as the only Kosovan clubs to win in Europe.
The Saints finished third behind Europa in the Gibralter Premier Division, and will be in Europa League for the third consecutive season. They are still looking for their first-ever win in the competition, and came close last season, drawing twice against B36 Tórshavn before losing on penalties after the second leg. Their first season in Europa League two years ago saw them lose to AEL Limassol 10-0 on aggregate, so the less said about that, the better.
We are a little over two weeks from the preliminary round kicking off from small stadiums all over Europe, but we will know the draws for the following two rounds next week. Though most people don’t tend to care about the UEFA competitions until the group stages kick off in the fall, we like to watch all the small clubs to see if someone can make it through the grueling qualification process. That said, only two clubs that started in the preliminary round last season made it as far as the second round, where they both lost.
Be sure to follow along as we play all the matches leading up to the group stage in Europa League, which will begin on 19 September.