Even though I am German, I am not an overwhelming soccer (or, for major parts of the world: football) fan. I cheer with the 1. FC Cologne, for which I have been a several years season ticket holder and I invested a lot of my life into women’s soccer. Even less, I am interested in the three UEFA club competitions, the Champions League, the Europa League and the Europa Conference League.
However, in summer, just when most major teams are still in vacation mode or just about to prepare for the next season, I am really following a lot of the match results. The “minor” teams have to qualify for one of the few spots to compete against the “big ones”. Teams from countries like Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, Andorra, the Faroe Islands or the Baltic states. Typically, they soon get drawn against teams from Sweden, Belgium, Poland or other countries, they just cannot beat. But some somehow impress. And become heroes of European club soccer. Unfortunately, only few get the publicity they deserve. So many football matches are streamed for a fee, but many of these teams just don’t get the spotlight they deserve. This summer was amazing – and I just felt to pick up five teams, who did amazing jobs in my point of view. Hope you enjoy this sports blog posting.
1. KI Klaksvik (Faroe Islands)
Original Qualification Competition: Champions League, 1st round
Final Qualification Matches: Europa League, play-off vs. Sheriff Tiraspol (MDA)
Overall Outcome:1-1 (H), 1-2 (A) vs. Sheriff Tiraspol (MDA), qualified for Conference League
The Klaksvíkar Ítróttarfelag, which is the full club name, became soccer heroes of the season in my point of view. The Faroese team started with a brave 0-0 against Hungarian champion Ferencvaros at their home ground in Klaksvik (later, they moved to the national stadium in Torshavn). A good result, but not maybe the result you need if you have to travel to a rather full Ferencvaros Stadium the week after. You just cannot say that the Hungarians played their best – but winning on the road by three goals(!) has simply been incredible.
Next week, next trip. you can’t say that Klaksvik was the favorite against Swedish champion Häcken – but they did it again. A 0-0 tied score on the sheep islands and a victory on the road – even though they needed an own goal in extra time by Abrahamsson and penalties to proceed. On 8th August 2023, Klaksvik even beat Norwegian team Molde in the Torsvollur, but the luck was not on their side in Norway, where they could have made with with a late crossbar hit – but finally deservedly lost in extra time.
KI Klaksvik was already the first Faroese team to qualify for any group stage. Moldavian Sheriff Tiraspol just has been slightly better in aggregate in the Europa League playoffs, but Klaksvik will face Lille (France), Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) and Olimpija Ljubijana (Slovenia) in the Conference League groups now. Especially at home, they might go for more upsets. I was also extremely amazed how well the club handled the organization, including fan trips to Molde, early ticketing information etc. They also boosted the number of social media followers, learned that you need to do some English contents now here and then and received support all over Europe.
2. Breidablik (Iceland)
Original Qualification Competition: Champions League, preliminary round
Final Qualification Matches: Conference League play-offs vs. Struga (MKD)
Overall Outcome: 1-0 (A), 1-0 (H) vs. Struga (MKD), qualified for Conference League
The story of Klaksvik was soll well covered all over Europe (and even globally), that you tend to miss the almost similar story of Bredablik, a team from Kopavogur in Iceland. They even had to take the harder route, as they had two matches before they even made it into the first round of Champions League Qualification. However, neither Tre Penne from San Marino nor Buducnost Podgorica (Montenegro) had a chance against them. Especially the latter match with a 5-0 score did leave a message.
The first round of qualification went quite straight with two one goal victories against the Irish Shamrock Rovers, Later group phase qualifier FC Copenhagen, though, was too strong. The Danish won 2-0 and 6-3. The next battle felt to break the Icelandic hearts, when they lost 2-6 the following week at Zrinjski in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. This also meant that Breidablik now had to win in the Conference League playoffs against Northern Macedonia team Struga – which they did twice with a 1-0 score.
Breidablik will have huge travels, playing the Conference League Group B against KAA Gent (Belgium), Makkabi Tel Aviv (Israel) and Zorya Luhansk (Ukraine), who might likely play their home matches in East Poland. Will be interesting to see how the Icelandic team will act in this challenge. Fun fact: Klaksvik and Kopavogur are twin cities.
3. Santa Coloma (Andorra)
Original Qualification Competition: Conference League, 1st round
Final Qualification Matches: Conference League, 3rd round vs. AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Overall Outcome: lost 0-1 (H), 0-2 (A) vs. Alkmaar, not qualified
The teams from Andorra typically have a very tough time. The more, this years campaign of FC Santa Coloma cannot be valued high enough, even though they finally did not make it. After tieing Perrybont (Wales) abroad, they took the opponents to extra time at the Stadi Communal in Andorra la Vella, where they scored twice. Montenegro team Sutjeska felt to give Santa Coloma the typical Andorra team faith when they won the first match at home by 2-0, but again, the underdogs came back. tied the score and were the extra time winners again. That would already be quite a great effort. However, the third round match again the high favorites AZ Alkmaar from the Netherlands was another great fight, where Santa Coloma in aggregate just lost 0-3.
4. Aris Limassol (Cyprus)
Original Qualification Competition: Champions League, 2nd round
Final Qualification Matches: Europa League, play-offs vs. Slovan Bratislava (SVK).
Overall Outcome: Qualified, Europa League
Aris Limassol had a great comeback in the final match. They started their European campaign well, overall beating BATE Borisov (Belarus) by 11-5. The Polish team Rakow caused much more trouble to them, they lost both matches by one goal and thus had to play Europa League. Losing the first match at Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) felt already like major struggle, but Limassol showed an amazing match in front of their home crowd and won the 2nd match by 6-2. Very good campaign.
5. Swift Hesper (Luxemburg)
Original Qualification Competition: Champions League, 1st round
Final Qualification Matches: Conference League, 3rd round vs. Struga (MKD)
Overall Outcome: lost 1-3(A), won 2-1(H), not qualified
One of the territorial reasons why I followed minor teams in UEFA qualification campaigns is Luxembourg. F91 Diddeleng / Düdelingen had some amazing campaigns in the last years. F91 struggled a lot this year, but Swift Hesper did a really good job this year. After losing the first round in the Champiions League strain, The New Saints from Wales gave them a close battle. Another close battle was the match against Struga. Hesper felt to have a great chance to come back, but scored too late for the second time in their home match.
Title picture: Torsvollur, Faroese National Stadium
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