Tuesday 22 October 2019

Dundalk drawn with Latvian side Riga in Champions League qualifiers, while Celtic face Bosnian outfit FK Sarajevo

UEFA Head of Club Competitions Michael Heselschwerdt draws out the name of Dundalk during the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round draw in Nyon, Switzerland. Photo by UEFA via Sportsfile
UEFA Head of Club Competitions Michael Heselschwerdt draws out the name of Dundalk during the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round draw in Nyon, Switzerland. Photo by UEFA via Sportsfile
Georgie Kelly, centre, and his Dundalk team-mates Seán Gannon, left, and Daniel Kelly. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Dundalk will face Latvian champions Riga FC in the first qualifying round of the Champions League.

The League of Ireland leaders were seeded in the draw, a product of their consistent appearance at this level in recent years and the excellent run in 2016, which seriously boosted their standing.

However, they were still wary of the available options on the other side of the draw and were particularly anxious to avoid surprise Polish champions Piast Gliawice - who pipped Dundalk's old foes Legia Warsaw to the crown in a shock development.

Linfield were also a possible opponent, but Vinny Perth's team will take on Latvia's top side with the Irish team at home in the first leg.

Riga are currently joint-top of their domestic league, which is also played in a summer season.

The relatively new club made its European debut in the Europa League last term where they were knocked out on penalties by CSKA Sofia in a first round qualifier.

Celtic boss Neil Lennon will take his side to Bosnia for a Champions League clash with FK Sarajevo. Photo: Getty
Celtic boss Neil Lennon will take his side to Bosnia for a Champions League clash with FK Sarajevo. Photo: Getty

Dundalk's American owners have targeted progression in Europe this term.

Participation in the Champions League is worth €800,000 to Dundalk and they will be guaranteed a further €400,000 if they get through this tie.

Significantly, they are guaranteed a parachute into the Europa League even if they lose at the first hurdle.

UEFA have established a route to the group stages of the secondary competition for domestic champions.

Dundalk's high seeding would also leave them in a favourable position if or when they drop into that tournament.

They would need to progress through four rounds of the Champions League to make the group stage proper. It was just three rounds when they reached the final hurdle in 2016 and fell short against Legia, thus earning a passage into the Europa League groups.

Vinny Perth's side will play their two-legged tie on the weeks of July 9/10 and July 16/17.

Dundalk won the double last season but Europe is a big aim for the club, after a disappointing outcome last year when they beat Estonian side Levadia in the Europa League before going on to lose 4-0 to the Cypriots of Larnaca.

"It's the top tournament with the top players. Everyone wants to play in those games," Dundalk defender Seán Gannon says of the Champions League. "I think we were disappointed with how Europe went last year, we feel like we didn't do ourselves justice in the games against Larnaca.

"We don't want that to happen again so it's just a case of trying to correct a few things from last year and hopefully be more successful in Europe this year," added Gannon who was named player of the month by the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers Association of Ireland (SWAI) in May, his first such award.

"I have kind of just given thought to who we could get. It's something that you just look at and then park it. Whoever you draw in the Champions League, it's always a tough game. It's exciting. I think everyone will agree that when Europe comes around, there is a buzz around the place. We'll look at who we get and then we'll look at the Rovers game. We need to not get distracted."

Meanwhile, Celtic will open their Champions League qualifying campaign against Bosnian side Sarajevo.

Neil Lennon's side will take on a side managed by former Hearts striker Husref Musemic in the first qualifying round as they seek to reach the group stages for a third time in four years.

Northern Ireland champions Linfield will face Rosenborg of Norway in their opening Champions League qualifier and The New Saints of Wales will face the winners of the preliminary round.

Kosovans Feronikeli take on Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar, while San Marino's Tre Penne meet FC Santa Coloma on June 25, with the two victors progressing to a play-off three days later that will decide who enters the competition proper.

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