Linfield have been drawn in an immensely challenging Group 8 of the UEFA Champions League, with matches due to be played in Brussels.
The games are expected to be as follows.
August 7 - PAOK v Linfield
August 10 - LSK Kvinner v Linfield
August 13 - Anderlecht v Linfield
Norwegians LSK Kvinner are the top seeds and top ranked team in the entire qualifying tournament and their UEFA coefficient is a huge 42.405.
Greek second seeds PAOK are the third highest ranked team among the second seeds and their UEFA coefficient is 10.965.
Belgian third seeds and hosts Anderlecht are the second highest team among the third seeds and their UEFA coefficient is 5.465.
Linfield are fourth seeds and our coefficient is 0.660.
Linfield’s draw, while very difficult on the pitch, can be viewed in a very positive light in other ways.
Linfield have been drawn against genuine big names and high profile clubs which will be a great experience for the team and a great opportunity to raise the profile of the club and women’s football at home and across the continent.
Furthermore, the task of transporting the club to and hosting the club in Belgium between August 5 and 14 will be a lot smoother than would have been the case, had the club been drawn against one or two of the Eastern European alternatives host destinations.
The genuine heavyweights in this group and the qualifying tournament are LSK Kvinner of Norway,
LSK are the well known Lillestrom of Oslo and Kvinner is the Norwegian word for women.
LSK have won their domestic league 6 years out of the past 7 seasons and they normally automatically proceed straight through to the knock out stages of the tournament, along with other heavyweights such as Lyon, Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Last year in the knock out stages rounds of 32 and 16, they beat the champions of Russia and Denmark before losing in the quarter final to Barcelona.
Two years ago they beat the Danish champions in the round of 32, before losing to Manchester City in the round of 16.
Lillestrom are a genuine force in women’s football, as can be evidenced by the fact that they will have 8 players in the Norway national squad which will face England in the World Cup quarter final in France on Thursday.
The 8 are
2 - Ingrid Wold
5 - Synne Skinnes Hansen
7 - Elise Thorsnes
12 - Cecile Fiskerstrand (GK)
13 - Therese Asland
14 - Ingrid Engen
16 - Guro Reiten
20 - Emilie Haavi
Two of the above (Engen and Reiten) scored in the penalty shoot victory against Australia in the round of 16 on Saturday night.
Before this huge encounter with a genuine superpower, Linfield will have met the Norwegian men’s champions in the UEFA Champions League, as Linfield have been drawn against Rosenborg at Windsor Park on July 10 with the return leg in Trondheim on July 17.
Linfield have played Lillestrom men’s team on 2 occasions in the UEFA Champions League - in season 1978/79 and 1987/88.
Linfield have met Norwegian opponents in European competition on a regular basis - in addition to the 2 encounters with Lillestrom, Linfield have also met Rosenborg on two previous occasions - 1986/87 and 2010/11.
Linfield have also played Valarengen in 1966 and a UEFA Cup tie against Stabaek in 2002/03.
Linfield also have rich European pedigree against opponents from Greece and Belgium.
Linfield played Panathanikos of Greece famously in 1984/85 and more recently, Skoda Xanthia in the Europa League in 2013/14.
Linfield played Standard Liege of Belgium in 1971/72 and SK Beveren in the UEFA Cup in 1981/82.
More recently, Linfield academy teams have travelled in three consecutive years to the Flanders region of Belgium, to play local teams and to pay tribute to and learn more about those who lost their lives in the World wars which took place in the Ypres region in the previous century.
The coming weeks will see new history being made when Linfield Ladies take on Belgian, Greek and Norwegian opposition and our men’s team renew rivalry with the Norwegian champions and are guaranteed a second game either in the Champions League (against Poles or Belorussians) or in the Europa League (against Finns or Faroese opponents).
Exciting times for the men’s and women’s champions of Northern Ireland.
Audaces Fortuna Juvat
Below - representatives of the 4 clubs in Linfield’s group at Friday’s draw in Geneva. (Left to right - representatives of Lillestrom, PAOK, Anderlecht and Linfield’s Andy Conn)