Stephen approached me the other day with a most absorbing proposal. Throughout the Europa League season, Stephen and I shall be picking a game of the round (separate from Fulham's) to explore, with appropriate brevity, in order to add some depth to our hopefully extensive adventure into the crevices of Europe.
My First Qualifying Round pick is FK Rabotnicki vs JK Trans Nava.Few games in these early Europa League rounds (excluding Fulham's, of course) provide genuine class and a degree of interest and trepidation. FK Rabotnicki, however, while lacking the necessary qualities to oppose Europe's elite, do certainly have some respectable experience and will therefore provide an enticing spectacle when they line up against Trans of Estonia on Thursday.
Trans Nava themselves can't lay claim to any pedigree in Europe at all. The side, a finalist in this year's Estonian Cup, have never made it beyond the first round of any European competition; including the now scrapped Intertoto Cup. Their only major shock was provided in 2001, when a 3-0 scoreline was recorded at home against Swedish giants Elfsborg in the first round of the UEFA Cup. To say they threw away their lead in the second leg would be an understatement, however, losing 5-0 in Sweden, and to rub salt into the already demeaning wounds, it was confirmed that the 3-0 victory was a punishment to Elfsborg for fielding an ineligible player. The actual score on the night was 3-1 in the Swedes' favour.
Rabotnicki, however, know how to rub shoulders with the best; most notably some of England's representatives. Last year, the Macedonian First League side, who haven't won their domestic championship since 2008, hosted Liverpool in the 3rd qualifying round of the Europa League. They lost 2-0 in both legs, but they possess memories of previous English exploits in the North too. They fought to a very respectable 1-1 draw with Bolton Wanderers in 2007, but were defeated 1-0 at the Reebok Stadium. They have also travelled to Northern Ireland in the past, facing Fulham's potential second round opponents, Crusaders. The Macedonian side breezed past with a 5-3 aggregate scoreline in the inaugural Europa League competition.
FK Rabotnicki are blessed with a squad full of home-grown talent, barring German Stephan Vujcic and Armenian goalkeeper Tigran Kandikyan. Trans, in contrast, possess a team plucked from a variety of Eastern European countries, ranging from Russia to Lithuania. A man for the Macedonians to be weary of would be Trans striker Maksim Gruznov, who scored a double century of goals in only 272 appearances in a stint at Trans between 1999 and 2008. The striker left to join a rival Estonian side in 2008, but has returned to his hometown club to more-than-likely see out his career. Vlatko Grozdanoski, Rabotnicki's newly purchased winger, will be a man to fear for Trans Nava.
Aggregate score prediction: FK Rabotniki 4 - 1 JK Trans Nava
|First Round Qualifying Tie||Kris' Winner Prediction|
|KR Reykjavík (ISL) v ÍF Fuglafjørdur (FRO)||KR Reykjavík|
|IL Elfsborg (SWE) v CS Fola Esch (LUX)||IL Elfsborg|
|The New Saints FC (WAL) v Cliftonville FC (NIR)||The New Saints FC|
|FC Honka Espoo (FIN) v JK Nõmme Kalju (EST)||FC Honka Espoo|
|Fulham FC (ENG)* v NSÍ Runavík (FRO)||Fulham FC|
|ÍBV Vestmannaeyjar (ISL) v Saint Patrick's Athletic FC (IRL)||Saint Patrick's Athletic FC|
|BK Häcken (SWE)* v UN Käerjéng 97 (LUX)||BK Häcken|
|Aalesunds FK (NOR)* v Neath FC (WAL)||Aalesunds FK|
|FK Renova (MKD) v Glentoran FC (NIR)||FK Renova|
|FC Koper (SVN) v FC Shakhter Karagandy (KAZ)||FC Koper|
|FK Banga (LTU) v Qarabağ FK (AZE)||Qarabağ FK|
|Paksi SE (HUN) v UE Santa Coloma (AND)||Paksi SE|
|FK Rabotnicki (MKD) v JK Trans Narva (EST)||FK Rabotnicki|
|FK Rad (SRB) v SP Tre Penne (SMR)||FK Rad|
|FK Budućnost Podgorica (MNE) v KS Flamurtari (ALB)||FK Budućnost Podgorica|
|Ulisses FC (ARM) v Ferencvárosi TC (HUN)||Ferencvárosi TC|
|Jagiellonia Białystok (POL) v FC Irtysh Pavlodar (KAZ)||Jagiellonia Białystok|
|FC Minsk (BLR) v Olimpik-Şüvälan PFK (AZE)||FC Minsk|
|FC Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v FC Milsami Orhei (MDA)||FC Dinamo Tbilisi|
|NK Varaždin (CRO) v FC Lusitans (AND)||NK Varaždin|
|FC Banants (ARM) v Metalurgi Rustavi (GEO)||FC Banants|
|Birkirkara FC (MLT) v KS Vllaznia (ALB)||KS Vllaznia|
|NK Široki Brijeg (BIH) v NK Olimpija Ljubljana (SVN)||NK Olimpija Ljubljana|
|FC Spartak Trnava (SVK) v FK Zeta (MNE)||FC Spartak Trnava|