Hearts and Aberdeen must watch out for these Europa League foes
On the same day as Euro 2016’s first quarter final, June 30, two SPFL sides will kick off a new competitive campaign in the Europa League.
Although the majority of the continent’s attention will be trained on the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, Aberdeen and Hearts fans could well be taking their seats in a Lithuanian, Andorran or Montenegrin stadium for their first qualifying round opener.
Both clubs are seeded for the draw, meaning they’ll avoid some familiar European names like Midtylland and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
In doing so, they’ll experience the real beauty of the Europa League by facing off against any number of unconventional opponents from the competition’s underbelly.
Here’s a look at three of the more unheard of potential opponents for the SPFL pair:
Europa FC – Gibraltar
Nicknamed the Green Machine, Europa FC will contest the first qualifying round for the third successive season.
They failed to score a goal in either of their previous two ties, let alone win a match. Despite their European woes, they have been setting a high bar for football in Gibraltar, along with regular domestic champions Lincoln Red Imps, for the last few years.
Their appearance in the 2014/15 Europa League was the first ever by a Gibraltarian team, while they had their league’s first representative in an international tournament when midfielder Charly travelled to last year’s African Cup of Nations with Equatorial Guinea.
Hibernians – Malta
For a number of reasons, a dream PR scenario of the Maltese Hibs facing off against their Scottish counterparts is a non-starter.
Hibernians would need to get through the first qualifying round initially, but even then there is a strong chance that they would remain unseeded, just like the Scottish FA Cup holders, for the next stage.
Nevertheless, a Hearts v Hibernians first qualifying round clash would still satisfy the headline writers, and the Jam Tarts would need to be wary should it happen.
In this season’s Champions League qualifiers, Hibernians took a surprise 2-1 first-leg lead over Maccabi Tel Aviv, before succumbing 5-1 to the Israelis on the road.
Shkendija – Republic of Macedonia
The draw may even throw up a familiar face for Dons fans, with a rematch against this season’s first qualifying round opponents a possibility.
Derek McInnes’ side had Niall McGinn’s strike at the Philip II Arena to thank for knocking the Red and Blacks out, after a goalless draw at home ensured Aberdeen progressed on away goals.
Should the pair re-oppose each other next season, the Pittodrie club may not be lucky enough to call on McGinn, as the midfielder has been called up to Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.