Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Europa League Qualifiers - Ties to watch

Some of us like to use our summer holidays to travel abroad, lay on a beach and forget all about what's going on in the world.

On the other hand, many, including myself, prefer to sit at home and watch the European qualifying rounds. You can always tell which ones we are - pasty white skin, bloodshot eyes (from the late finishes to games in Iceland or Madeira) and able to distinguish FC Honka from FK Spartak Zlatibor Voda in an instant.

For those who revel in obscurity - or perhaps more kindly, for those who love all kinds of football, warts and all - the early rounds of European competition are a godsend. In the middle of the summer break, when hardly any football of consequence is being played, dozens of fascinating ties suddenly fall into our laps.

Moreover, watching games from the far-flung reaches of Europe reveals much about the political and social make-up of the continent.

During last week's tie between Liverpool and FK Rabotnicki in Skopje, for instance, there were many viewers who couldn't understand why the home crowd booed every touch of Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, until it was pointed out the long history of animosity between Macedonians and Greeks.

There was the strange sensation of watching a Champions League qualifier, billed as a big game by many, played in an almost empty stadium. Unirea Urziceni took on Zenit St Petersburg in a drab 0-0 draw, with only 7,000 in attendance at Bucharest's 28,000 capacity Steaua Stadium. The reason? Urziceni is 60km away from Bucharest and has a population of around 17,000.

There was also the unusual spectacle of a European tie on a weekday kicking off at 1pm British time, as Sibir vs Apollon took place in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, six time zones ahead of London. I for one would love to see Sibir progress through the Europa League - the 10,000km round trip from the UK would make it a daunting place to go for, say, Manchester City's feted millionaires.

On Thursday, when the third qualifying round of the Europa League resumes, there a few ties worth keeping an eye on. This week I've picked a few out for ITV.com in an article which you can read here.

And for those of you with one eye on Liverpool's return leg against FK Rabotnicki, which they lead 2-0 on aggregate, here's 10 trivial things I meticulously researched about the Macedonians.


Emmet said...

Or, you can use your holiday to...go watch them in person :)

Saw Suduva Marijampole lose to Rapid Wien a few weeks ago in Lithuania, and tomorrow's gonna be Dnipro against Spartak something something in Dnipropetrovsk.

Hope you're well!

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Always glad to hear your thoughts. Be nice now! James