European football returns to the capital this week as The New Saints take on Viktoria Plzeň at the Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday, 5 August (7.45pm) in the 3rd qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Anthony Limbrick's side made history in the last round as the Saints claimed an incredible 10-1 aggregate victory over Lithuanian outfit Kauno Zalgiris to register the highest-ever score recorded by a club from the Welsh domestic game in European competition. The challenge of Czech side Viktoria Plzeň will be a much tougher test, but the Saints head into the match high in confidence and ready to make more European history.
“We've got a lot of good, experienced people here who have been involved in Europe before and know what it's all about,” explained the Australian manager who was appointed back in April. “One of the big pulls of coming here to TNS was to get that European experience and to play against different teams in different places, and it's been great so far.”
Leo Smith, the former Wrexham midfielder who returned to full-time football when he joined The New Saints from Caernarfon Town last summer, has now scored in each of his last six European games for the club. In addition, the fact that there were five different goalscorers in the 2nd leg victory over Kauno Zalgiris at Park Hall last week emphasised the depth of attacking talent that exists within the squad as they look to extend their European involvement.
But it is not just The New Saints that can benefit from their victories over Glentoran and Kauno Zalgiris this season, as positive results for our domestic clubs in Europe will improve our coefficient and help ensure that we regain our fourth European spot for the 2023/24 season. Only three clubs will qualify for Europe from Wales in 2022/23, and success at this level is needed now more than ever before.
Visit www.ticketsfaw.cymru to purchase tickets for The New Saints v Viktoria Plzen on Thursday, 5 August at Cardiff City Stadium.
Connah's Quay Nomads also boosted the coefficient rating last week with their impressive 4-2 win over Kosovan outfit Prishtina, but it was not enough to overturn the 4-1 defeat from the 1st leg as Andy Morrison's side exited the competition 6-5 on aggregate. It was a night of what might have been as opportunities to take the match to extra-time were missed, while uncharacteristic defending at the other end of the field took the tie from their reach.
Bala Town and Newtown completed the European line-up this season, but both were eliminated in the opening qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League with defeats against Larne and Dundalk respectively. Only three of our clubs will compete in Europe next season, and the loss of a European place means a significant drop in the prize money generated from qualifying. Therefore, it is vital for the continued progression of the domestic game in Wales that the fourth European place is restored as quickly as possible.
And The New Saints will be confident in their approach as they take on the formidable challenge of Viktoria Plzeň on Thursday. Now under the guidance of former Czech Republic national team manager Michal Bílek, the side boast an impressive record on the continent having regularly competed in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, and they have played almost 90 European fixtures over the course of the last 10 years.
Entering the UEFA Europa Conference League in the 2nd qualifying round having finished fifth in the Czech League last season, their lowest league finish for over a decade, the side defeated Dynamo Brest of Belarus 4-2 on aggregate to setup the tie against The New Saints this week. Meanwhile, the manner of The New Saints' victory in the last round means that they will not be underestimated.
Manager Anthony Limbrick was keen to praise the professionalism of his players following the victory over Kauno Zalgiris, and their defensive and tactical discipline will be key on Thursday if they are to make it a difficult evening for the Czech side. However, having already made history in this European campaign, anything is possible if The New Saints can produce another strong performance on the night.
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