12 Jul 2023

Linfield, Glentoran and Crusaders are in action this evening as they each embark on another summer of European football.

Regulars on the continental stage, all three will compete in the Europa Conference League with hopes of progressing in UEFA's newest competition.

Linfield v. KF Vallaznia
Linfield host Albanian side KF Vllaznia at Windsor Park, kick-off 7:45pm.

The Blues came agonisingly close to the making the group stages last season and will be looking to use that experience to drive forward this time around.

David Healy's side have strengthened over the close season, bringing in Matthew Fitzpatrick from Glenavon, John Robertson from FC Edinburgh and Jack Scott who made the switch from Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In preparation, Linfield have played a number of friendlies including games against Scottish pair St. Mirren and Kilmarnock, Lincoln Red Imps and Welsh duo Connah's Quay Nomads and The New Saints.

Their opponents hail from the city of Shkoder and finished fourth in the local Kategoria Superiore last season.

Managed by former Macedonian international Goce Sedloski, KF have made a number of changes over the summer after their four leading scorers all departed the club with Ildi Gruda (Teuta Durrës), Darko Dodev (Bregalnica Štip) and Bujar Hajdari (Skopje) making the move to fill the gap.

Their most recent European excursion brought a 4-1 aggregate defeat to Romanian side Universitatea Craiova in the Conference League a year ago.

Gzira United v. Glentoran
Glentoran make the trip to Malta to take on Gzira United, kick-off 6pm.

Winners of the European play-offs, this will be Glentoran's competitive debut under new manager Warren Feeney.

It's been a busy few weeks in the transfer market for Feeney with the likes of Conor McMenamin and Terry Devlin leaving the club while Fuad Sule, Daire O'Connor and Josh Kelly have arrived at The Oval although it is unclear whether Sule will be given permission by UEFA to compete.

Glentoran's build up to the tie has included games against Scottish visitors St. Mirren and Kilmarnock, as well as HW Welders and Bangor locally all unbeaten.

Gzira finished third domestically last season, and go into the tie looking to improve upon an impressive run twelve months ago that took them all the way to the Third Qualifying Round past Serbian opponents Radnicki Nis before exiting to Wolfsberger.

Brazilian strike duo Jefferson and Maxuell Samurai bagged the vast majority of Gzira's goals last term but they have since left the club. Fellow striker and countryman Wilkson has arrived from Caucaia while other new signings include Colombian Farid Romero and another Brazilian, Carlos Chabá - both defenders.

FC Haka v. Crusaders
Irish Cup winners Crusaders travel north to Finland to take on FC Haka, kick-off 5pm.

The Crues go into the tie on the back of a successful defence of the Charity Shield having defeated Larne by two goals at Inver Park earlier this month. There were also friendly defeats of Ards and Dundela.

Manager Stephen Baxter has made a number of changes to the side that finished last season. James Teelan has joined from Newry City, as has experienced Linfield defender Jimmy Callacher. Mal Smith has also made the switch from Glentoran while Lloyd Anderson (Carrick Rangers), Mikhail Kennedy (Dergview) and Jordan Williamson (Ballymena United) have also arrived at Seaview.

Haka are back in Europe for the first time since the 2008/09 season, and qualified after finishing 4th in the 2022 Veikkausliiga. However, they are currently experiencing a poor run of form this time around and find themselves second bottom of the table having not won in their last ten outings.

Their biggest threat up front appears to come from Argentinian Juan Lescano with the remaining goals spread around the rest of the squad.

The return legs of all three ties will be played next Thursday (20th July).