Crusaders take to the field in their last UEFA Champions League match against FC Copenhagen (c) Presseye

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PREVIEW: LUDOGORETS v CRUSADERS

Crusaders have the difficult task of breaking down Ludogorets of Bulgaria away from home in the First Qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League tonight (Wednesday).

Ludogorets have enjoyed a period of dominance in the Bulgarian First League with seven consecutive championship titles since 2011. The latest of their titles was claimed in May last year, pipping rivals CSKA Sofia by seven points.

Their domestic dominance has also progressed into a regular berth in European competition having qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League twice (2014/15 & 2016/17) and progression to the knock-out stages of the UEFA Europa League on three occasions including an exit in the Round of 32 last season to AC Milan. 

Visiting Crusaders are embarking on their sixth campaign in the UEFA Champions League / European Cup and their first since losing 9-0 on aggregate to FC Copenhagen of Denmark in 2016. The tie also marks the eighth consecutive season in Europe for Stephen Baxter’s Crues, but their first ever game against Bulgarian opposition.

Crusaders’ preparation for the trip to Razgrad, has included defeats to Connah Quay Nomads and Motherwell (in Jordan Owens’ testimonial match) followed by a 2-1 win over H&W Welders last Thursday evening. The players will be boosted by the transition to a full-time training regime, implemented in the last two weeks in preparation for the new season.

New signings, Michael Ruddy (Ards), Harry Doherty (Carrick Rangers) and Kyle Owens (Ballymena United) all travelled with the squad yesterday, but Gary Thompson (Ballymena United) doesn’t travel through injury. Club captain Colin Coates is also unavailable for the North Belfast side.

Kick off in the first leg tie at the Razgad Arena is 6pm BST.

The second leg will be played at Seaview on Tuesday 17 July, kick-off: 8pm.

Tags:  Crusaders