UEFA Champions League: Potential Opponents Confirmed

May 30, 2024 | First Team, All News, Club News

As the curtain comes down on the Inver Reds’ historic 2023/24 campaign, the attention of Larne supporters begins to turn towards another season of European football in the UEFA Champions League.  

Back-to-back Sports Direct Premiership titles mean that Tiernan Lynch’s side will once again take part in the First Qualifying Round of UEFA’s elite club competition, which will this year be played at Inver Park for the very first time. 

With the draw due to take place on Tuesday 18th June, supporters are less than one month away from finding out who the club’s first European opponents will be and all of our potential opponents are now known. 

Larne will once again be unseeded for the draw, meaning that Tiernan Lynch and his players will be preparing to face one of the following sides – information courtesy of @NICoefficient on X. 

Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) 

Founded in 1919, Slovan Bratislava enter this summer’s UEFA Champions League having won the 2023/24 Slovak Super Liga for the 22nd time.  

Known as the Belasi, which translates to Sky Blues, the team finished 15 points ahead of their closest opponents Dunajská Streda in second place.  

No strangers to punching above their weight in Europe, Slovan Bratislava’s finest hour came in 1969 when they defeated Barcelona 3-2 to lift the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in Switzerland. 

In recent times, the Sky Blues have reached the group stages of the UEFA Europa League/Conference League, qualifying for the last 16 of the latter competition during the 2022/23 season.  

The team are currently captained by Vladimír Weiss, who has previously played in England for Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers alongside a spell at Rangers in Scotland. 

Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria) 

Ludogorets enter this summer’s competition having won Bulgaria’s First Professional Football League, finishing 12 points ahead of CSKA Sofia.  

Having been promoted to their nation’s top tier for the first time in 2011/12, The Eagles claimed a league and cup double to make the mark on the division and have since gone on to win 13 consecutive top-flight titles in an unprecedented era of domination. 

Arguably the strongest club confirmed to be in the draw, Ludogorets have qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League twice during the past decade in 2014/15 and 2016/17. 

Reputable results in Europe include 2-2 draws against Liverpool (2014) and Paris St. Germain (2016) and a 2-1 victory over Hoffenheim in 2017. Last season, Ludogorets finished second in their Conference League group before losing to Servette in the first knockout round.  

HJK Helsinki (Finland) 

A side which needs no introduction to Larne supporters, HJK qualified for the UEFA Champions League by winning the 2023 Veikkausliiga on goal difference (GD), finishing just three GD ahead of KuPS after 27 games. 

After claiming narrow victory against the Invermen over two legs last season, HJK found themselves in the group stages of the Conference League, where they finished fourth in Group G and were eliminated from the competition.  

Whilst competing in Group G, HJK gathered two points – both against Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen, with whom they drew 1-1 and 2-2 in the two group games. 

Domestically, HJK have won the Finnish top-flight 33 times alongside a further 14 Finnish Cup crowns. The club are the only team from Finland to have competed in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League (1998/99) and have qualified twice each for the Europa League and Conference League group stages respectively. 

FC Flora Tallinn (Estonia) 

Founded in 1990, FC Flora have won the Meistriliiga on 15 occasions, which includes recent back-to-back league titles in 2022 and 2023. Currently 15 games into their 2024 campaign (at the time of writing), FC Flora sit in third place and are eight points behind league leaders Levadia.  

During the 201/22 season, FC Flora became the first Estonian side to qualify for the group stages of a European competition, when they defeated League of Ireland club Shamrock Rovers 5-2 on aggregate to secure their spot in Group B of the UEFA Conference League. 

The Estonian side went on to defeat Partizan Belgrade 1-0 at home to claim an historic group stage victory, despite finishing last in Group B overall. FC Flora had less success on the European stage last season, failing to win a tie and exciting in the Third Qualifying Round of the Conference League after receiving a bye in round two. 

FCSB (Romania) 

Formerly recognised by UEFA as the previously known Steaua Bucharest, FCSB are the only side entering the draw to have won the UEFA Champions League/European Cup when they defeated Barcelona on penalties to be crowned champions of Europe in 1985.

The Red and Blues followed this success up by defeating Dynamo Kiev 1-0 to lift the 1986 UEFA Super Cup and have dominated domestically throughout their history, winning 27 league titles and 24 Romanian Cup trophies.  

An elite force in Europe throughout the 80s and early 90s, the 2024/25 season will be FCSB’s first Champions League campaign in seven years. Having most recently competed in the Europa League and Conference League, the Bucharest natives defeated Chelsea 1-0 in the prior competition during the 2016/17 season and faced West Ham United in the 2022/23 Conference League group stages. 

KI Klasvik (Faroe Islands) 

KÍ enter this season’s UEFA Champions League (UCL) with the label of giant-killers after taking the qualifying rounds by storm least season.

Drawn against one of the top seeded teams in Ferencváros in the UCL first qualifying round, KÍ claimed a major upset with a 3-0 aggregate victory over their Hungarian opponents.  

KÍ’s European adventure continued through to the third qualifying round of the UCL, before narrowly losing a Europa League Play-Off to Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol.  

With the losing side in that tie claiming a spot in the Conference League group stages, KÍ became the first Faroese club to reach the group stages of a European competition, ultimately finishing 4th in their group but claiming a draw over Lille and victory over Olimpija Ljubljana. 

Having won the Faroe Islands Premier League 21 times overall, KÍ qualified for this summer’s competition after winning their division by 7 points in 2023. At the time of writing, the current champions sit third in the 2024 standings after 11 games played. 

Shamrock Rovers (Ireland) 

Our neighbouring champions of Ireland won their 21st League of Ireland title during the 2023 season, the most by any team in the country, which confirmed their spot in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds. 

The 2023 title success was the fourth in a row for Rovers, as they finished seven points ahead of their nearest challengers in Derry City.  

Nicknamed ‘The Hoops’, the Irish side boast a long history in European competition. Notably, they became the first Irish side to qualify for the Europa League group stages back in 2011, when they were pitted in the same group as Tottenham Hotspur. Rovers also qualified for the group stages of the Europa Conference League during the 2022/23 campaign. 

With their 2024 domestic season currently underway, Shamrock Rovers currently sit 3rd in the standings with 28 points from 19 games, trailing Derry City and leaders Shelbourne.  

Lincoln Red Imps (Gibraltar) 

The Red Imps, as they are most commonly known, won their fourth league title in a row, and their 28th overall, during the 2023/24 campaign in dramatic fashion. The Gibraltarian side clinched a last-minute draw against title rivals St Joseph’s to seal the title on the final day of the season. 

Founded in 1976, the club boast a trophy-laden history with 78 major honours in their 47 years of existence.  

On the European stage, the Red Imps made history as they become the first Gibraltarian side to play in UEFA competition with their UEFA Champions League qualifier back in the 2014/15 season and would claim a famous 1-0 victory over Glasgow Celtic just one year later, in what was Carnlough native Brendan Rodgers’ first game in charge of the Scottish side.

More recently, the side have fared well on the European stage, reaching the group stages of the UEFA Conference League in the 2021/22 season with an impressive play-off victory over Riga FC. 

If drawn together, the Inver Reds could come up against a familiar foe in goalkeeper Dayle Coleing, who had a spell at Glentoran in recent seasons.  

The New Saints (Wales) 

Founded in 1959, the Cymru Premier side won their third league title in a row, and a record 16th overall, during the 2023/24 campaign.  

TNS, as they are more commonly known, are the most successful team in the Welsh Football League and since the 2001/02 season, they have finished as champions or runners-up every season apart from on one occasion in the 2008/09 season, when they finished third in the table. 

The Welsh champions play their home games at Park Hall stadium in Oswestry, a name that will be familiar to Larne supporters. The ground holds a place in the Inver Reds’ history with it being the venue for our first-ever European match, when we defeated Bala Town 1-0 in the UEFA Conference League qualifier back in 2021.  

Despite qualifying for Europe consistently since the 2000/01 campaign, TNS have yet to qualify for the group stages of a European competition. Last season, the Welsh side came up against BK Haken of Sweden in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round where they lost 5-1 on aggregate.  

FC Pyunik (Armenia) 

Founded in 1992, FC Pyunik are the current Armenian champions and hold the record for being the most successful team in the country, with 34 domestic trophies won to date.  

Known as having one of the best youth academies in the country, the Armenian side have produced some world-class stars including Inter Milan’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan.  

In European competition, FC Pyunik boast some impressive results in recent seasons. In the 2022/23 season, the side reached the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, with victories over CFR Cluj and F91 Dudelange. This led to them qualifiying for the group stages of the UEFA Conference League in the same season, where they defeated Slovan Bratislava and FK Žalgiris and finished 3rd in their group.  

FK RFS (Latvia) 

Much like the Inver Reds, RFS have two top-flight league titles to their name, one in 2021 and the other in 2023.

Founded in 2016, the club are based in the capital of Riga and the Latvian side have enjoyed an incredible rise to the top during that period. They play their home games at LNK Sporta Parks, a 2,300-capacity stadium that was built in 2022.  

In European competition, RFS will be a name that Larne supporters will recall of, with the Lativan side having overcome Linfield in a UEFA Conference League play-off back in the 2022/23 campaign. After becoming only the second Latvian club to reach the group stages of a European competition, they found themselves pitted against Hearts, Fiorentina and Istanbul Basaksehir.  

Interestingly, like the Invermen, the upcoming qualifiers will be their second venture in UEFA Champions League qualifying, with their first game also coming against HJK Helsinki back in the 2022/23 campaign.  

FC Petrocub Hîncești (Moldova) 

FC Petrocub enter the UEFA Champions League qualifying phase for the first time after winning their maiden Moldovan league title.  

Founded in 1999, the club is based out of the city of Hîncești in Moldova and play their home games at Stadionul Municipal, a 1,100-capacity stadium.  

The club have been regulars in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Europa and UEFA Conference Leagues since the 2018/19 campaign but haven’t progressed past the third qualifying round during any campaign so far.  

The Moldovan champions entered the UEFA Conference League in the second qualifying round last season where they met Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel and fell to a 5-0 aggregate defeat over the two legs.  

FC Ballkani (Kosovo) 

Larne supporters will be familiar with the Kosovan champions after they put an end to the Invermen’s journey in Europe last season with a 7-1 aggregate victory over the two legs.  

Ballkani went on to reach the group stages of the UEFA Conference League last season where they were drawn against Dinamo Zagreb, Astana and Victoria Plzen. This season, FC Ballkani will be looking to progress further than the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League for the first time with both previous attempts ending in defeat.  

Talented attacking midfielder Nazmi Gripshi remains at the club and will be a familiar name from last season after he scored in both legs of our UEFA Conference League tie.  

FK Borac Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) 

Founded in 1926, Borac Banja Luka won the league title for the third time in their history during the 2023/24 campaign which has led them into this qualifying phase for the UEFA Champions League.  

The Bosnian side play their home games at the Banja Luka City stadium which has a capacity of just over 10,000 people.  

Borac Banja Luka have yet to qualify for the group stages of a European competition but have been regulars in the qualification rounds of the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and the Conference League in recent seasons.  

Last campaign, they were drawn against Austria Wein in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League where they went out on a 3-1 aggregate defeat.  

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