The New Saints aiming to conquer Europa
The New Saints will be looking to lay down an early marker after being paired with FC Europa of Gibraltar in their Champions League opener.
Having safely navigated opposition in the first qualifying rounds in the last two seasons, the 11-times Welsh Premier champions will again be confident of making progress through the first stage.
They will be happy to have home advantage for the first leg at Park Hall next Tuesday (7pm), before heading to Portugal for the return the following week after the pitch at Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium failed a UEFA inspection.
The Saints have an improving Champions League record that has seen a return of four wins, two draws and two defeats in the last two years, a trend they will be keen to maintain.
It will be a big night for the management team of Scott Ruscoe and Steve Evans who have taken the helm following Craig Harrison’s departure to Hartlepool.
The pair have an abundance of European experience, and will want to make their mark as TNS look to progress to the second qualifying round where they will meet Croatian champions HNK Rijeka.
It appears a favourable opening draw, but Ruscoe will be taking nothing for granted against the Gibraltar premier division champions who completed the domestic treble by also winning the 2017 Rock Cup and Pepe Reyes Cup.
“It’s not a bad draw logistically for us because it’s going to be close with direct flights,” said Ruscoe, who himself has played 30 times in Europe,
“I’m just pleased we didn’t pick out the Armenian side or had to go to Kosovo, because that would have been difficult going into the unknown.
“We’ve seen enough of Europa FC. They’re a decent side. Preparation is key, we’ve got enough footage on them, so we’ll be leaving no stone unturned.
“We’ll be the favourites as we are the seeded side and are at home first, and it’s important we keep improving in Europe.
“We’re very happy to be at home first. We can have a look at them and we can put our stamp on the tie early on. We’re good at home and hopefully we can get off to a good start and take a good lead to Portugal.”