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Connah's Quay Nomads will face FK Sarajevo in the Cardiff City stadium on 19th August in the UEFA Champions League First Qualifying Round of the 2020/21 edition of the competition.
Only six clubs have represented Wales in the UEFA Champions League. Cwmbran Town were the inaugural winners of the then-named Konica League of Wales back in 1992/93, and they became the very first Welsh club to enter what was then the European Cup. Barry Town, Rhyl, Llanelli, Bangor City and The New Saints followed their lead, while Connah's Quay Nomads will now become the latest club to take part having won the JD Cymru Premier for the first time.
Some famous names have provided the opposition for our clubs over the years too, including Sergei Rebrov and Andriy Shevchenko (Dynamo Kiev), Deco, Jorge Costa and Ricardo Carvalho (FC Porto), Teemu Pukki (HJK Helsinki) and Romelu Lukaku (RSC Anderlecht) to name a few. In 2005/06, TNS also found themselves up against Champions League holders Liverpool as the side began the defence of their trophy under Rafael Benitez.
To compete in the UEFA Champions League, the biggest club competition in the world, is a privilege afforded to very few players and managers in the European game. Many top level professionals will never have that experience, and it is an opportunity that Welsh clubs have embraced and celebrated over the course of the last three decades. A total of 58 ties have taken place in the competition involving Welsh clubs, with each and every match holding a special place in the memories of those who played their part.
A new chapter will begin when Andy Morrison and his Connah's Quay Nomads side enter the competition for the first time later this month, but while we wait for the next campaign to begin, here's a retrospective look at some memorable Champions League highlights.
Michael Wilde – Hat-trick hero
One of the most-recognisable figures in the domestic game during the last decade has been Michael Wilde, but it was back in 2015/16 that he became the first player to score a UEFA Champions League hat-trick for a Welsh club as The New Saints defeated B36 Torshavn of the Faroe Islands 4-1 at Park Hall. The 2nd leg score made it 6-2 on aggregate as Craig Harrison's side progressed to face Hungarian outfit Videoton. The striker has scored five goals in the competition in total, and will have the opportunity to add to his tally as he continues to lead the line for Connah's Quay Nomads.
Cwmbran Town – The debutants
Under the guidance of the late Tony Wilcox, Cwmbran Town became the first Welsh club to compete in the competition and were drawn against Irish side Cork City ahead of the 1993/94 season. Over 3,500 fans were in attendance at the Cwmbran Stadium as goals from Simon King and a brace from Francis Ford earned the side a 3-2 win. However, a 2-1 defeat in the return match brought an end to their involvement in the competition as they exited on away goals. “It was unbelievable really,” explained defender David Burrows. “My photo was on the back page of the national papers. I remember a friend of mine had just come back off holiday, picked up a newspaper at the airport and phoned me to tell me!”
Barry Town – Famous first win
Following Cwmbran Town's exploits, Welsh clubs did not return to the competition until 1997/98. However, it was in 2001/02 that Barry Town became the first Welsh club to progress through the opening round as they defeated FC Shamkir of Azerbaijan 3-0 on aggregate. A 2-0 win at Jenner Park arrived courtesy of goals from Andrew York and Jon French, while Lee Phillips was on target in Baku to complete the scoring in the return fixture. “Beating FC Shamkir was an incredible experience for everyone concerned at the club,” said player-coach at the time Kenny Brown. “And it was great to celebrate the victory after the return match in Azerbaijan with the owners and the supporters who had made the trip over. It was a huge achievement.”
Barry Town – That night against Porto
But there was more to come from Barry Town in that campaign, with the challenge of Portuguese giants FC Porto their rewarded in the next round. Peter Nicholas's side headed to the Estadio das Antas for the opening match, and were welcomed by over 40,000 fans. Future Barcelona and Chelsea star Deco grabbed a hat-trick in the 8-0 victory, but it is the return match at Jenner Park that holds a special place in the hearts of the Barry Town faithful. Incredibly, goals from Lee Phillips, Mike Flynn and Gary Lloyd earned the Welsh champions a 3-1 win on the night, against a FC Porto defence that included Ricardo Carvalho.
TNS – The dream draw
The most memorable draw for any Welsh club in the Champions League took place in 2005/06 when it was confirmed that Liverpool would start the defence of their trophy against TNS. Their first match in the competition since the miracle of Istanbul took place at a packed Anfield as Ken McKenna's side faced the ultimate test. A hat-trick from Steven Gerrard earned a 3-0 win for Liverpool on the night, and the scoreline was repeated a week later at Wrexham to make it 6-0 to the holders on aggregate, with Gerrard scoring a brace from the bench after replacing Xabi Alonso after Djibril Cisse had increased the advantage in the opening half.
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