Stiff test once again awaits Euro-bound Welsh clubs

Cefn Druids make unlikely European debut; Llanelli visit Finland; Bangor City look to restore pride against Moldovans – a look at this week’s Europa League qualifying ties involving Welsh clubs.

Wales’ Europa League qualifying clubs are likely to once again face a stiff test this week, with the Europa League first qualifying round commencing on Thursday. Traditional league heavyweights Bangor City and Llanelli are both well-versed in the early qualifying rounds, with mixed success, but it is the presence of Welsh Cup runners-up Cefn Druids which is perhaps most intriguing.

Cefn Druids are set for European football for the first time in their 140-history following last season’s unlikely Welsh Cup run

A village team from the outskirts of Wrexham, Cefn Druids are Welsh football’s oldest club and their exploits in the Welsh Cup last season will have added another fondly remembered chapter to their 140-year-old history.

Despite their second-tier status, playing out of the Cymru Alliance, the Druids saw off three Welsh Premier sides eliminating Prestatyn, Aberystwyth and Airbus UK, in true David versus Goliath fashion showing just why the Welsh Cup continues to captivate followers of the domestic game. A defeat in the final to Welsh Premier League champions, The New Saints did little to dampen the spirits of Huw Griffith’s spirited squad with the losing finalists already certain of a Europa League spot, a just reward for their commendable run. But the likelihood of adding another victorious chapter to their history in their first foray into European football is surely beyond the realm of possibility, for even the most ardent Nomads supporter to consider.

Finnish outfit MyPa-47 visit the Wrexham FC’s Racecourse Ground on Thursday evening and lie between Cefn Druids and a place in the Europa League second qualifying round. The technical superiority and fitness of the Finns – who are enjoying a good domestic season in the upper reaches of the league – is likely to by-far outweigh that of Cefn Druids, having rubbed shoulders with respectable teams from across the continent and a reputation as one of the Veikkausliiga’s (Finnish top division) most significant clubs. MaPa are no strangers to Welsh opposition, having seen off The New Saints with back-to-back 1-0 wins six seasons ago and their manager, Toni Korkeakunnas will be quietly confident of taking a commanding advantage into the return leg next week.

MyPa aren’t the only Finnish side drawn against a Welsh club this season as Welsh Premier League play-off winners Llanelli travel to Kuopio, where they’ll face last season’s Finnish Cup runners-up KuPS.

Llanelli manager and assistant, Andy Legg and Steve Jenkins travelled to Finland last week where they will have learnt that KuPS are a side in ascendancy and will not have been misled by their current standing in the Veikkausliiga, where they sit just above the foot of the twelve-team table. KuPS adopt a strong counter-attacking style which will prove a stern test of Llanelli’s organisation, focus and fitness at this early stage of the season. Goals – at least in the Veikkausliiga – have been a problem for the Finns however, although midfielder Ats Purje appears to be the Finns main source of goals with four in twelve in their current campaign.

Bangor City complete Welsh interests in the Europa League qualifying round as they host European football at their Nantporth stadium for the first time, against Zimbru Chisinau of Moldova.

Although a largely unknown quantity, Bangor manager Nev Powell will take heart in the knowledge that the Moldovans are also in their off-season, with the Moldovan league due to start at the end of the month. Whether the comfortable surroundings of Nantporth are as unwelcoming to European opponents as Farrar Road once was remains to be seen, but strong support from the stands should at least provide a welcome boost to any heavy-legged players in the latter stages of the first-leg. The wily Nev Powell will also surely point to the club’s recent European results as a catalyst for a strong performance in the home leg. The Citizens have had their pride heavily dented in continental competition in recent years with a crushing 13-0 aggregate defeat to HJK Helsinki last season and a 10-3 aggregate loss to Marítimo of Portugal, the year before. Although challenging, Zimbru Chisinau will not be impossible to overcome despite comfortably finished third in the Divizia Națională last season. Bangor will have to pay note to the goalscoring prowess of frontmen Radu Caten and in particular, Oleg Molla.

Welsh football will be hoping to enter the new season with a wave of newfound optimism, as its clubs once again reach for their annual European yardstick.

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