Written by Peti Simon.
The draw for the first and second round qualifying of the Europa League 2011/12 season took place on Monday and has thrown up some interesting ties for Hungarian sides Ferencváros, Paks and Kecskemet.
In the first qualifying round (30 June and 7 July), Ferencváros were pitted against Ulisses FC from Armenia and will be starting away from home. Ulisses finished third out of eight teams in the Armenian Premier League (ranked 47th in Europe) last season and have some Armenian National Team members in their squad, along with a few foreign players from Africa and Georgia.
I expect Fradi to go through easily in this one. The men in green & white will start their campaign at home, so if they can get a 2-0/3-0 win in Budapest, it will make things much easier for the 2nd leg.
In the other first qualifying round game involving Hungarians, Nb1 runners-up Paks drew UE Santa Colorna from Andorra. Santa Colorna were also runners-up last season, but their division is ranked the 2nd worst league in Europe and is also a part-time league with part-time players, so not much else to say except that I predict Paks to go through easily.
For the Second qualifying round (14 and 21 July), Kecskemet are up against Kazakhstani outfit FC Aktobe. Aktobe finished 2nd last season and as a result will be a stiff test for KTE, especially considering the travelling implications. Another setback for Kecskemet is that they’re probably going to lose one of their best players in Foxi (even though the deal has hit the rocks in the past couple of days). The goal scoring midfielder was instrumental in KTE’s success last season, scoring a hat-trick in the Magyar Kupa final win over Videoton – the game that gave them the place in the Europa League. I’d say their chances are about 50-50, but KTE do start at home, so if they win with a scoreline of 2-0 or so, they can just play for the draw in Kazakhstan.
If Paks and FTC go through to the second round, they will either meet Daugava (Latvia) / Tromso (Norway) and Neath (Wales) / Aalesund (Norway), respectively – all winnable games for the Hungarian sides.
Now for the most exciting news for Hungarian fans. Hungarian 2010/11 champions Videoton have drawn the Austrian 2010/11 champions Sturm Graz in the 2nd round of qualifying for the Champions League. Sturm Graz are the team that needs the least introduction of the opponents mentioned so far. Sturm have had considerable success in Europe down the years, qualifying for Europe’s elite competition no less than three times, competing against the likes of Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United. The Austrian league is ranked considerably higher than Hungary’s (19th in Europe) but I still do think Videoton have a chance to get through, but it can definitely go either way. If their newly hired Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa brings in the types of players he has promised, then Vidi will certainly have a chance of getting to the next round.
Sousa reacted to the draw by telling Vidi.hu, “Sturm fought a long and hard to end up top of the Austrian league, and only managed to win the league in the final match.This tells me, on one hand, that we are talking about a good side. It also means that they we will be up against a mentally strong side in the champions league. We can be proud that Videoton are participating in the top competition, among teams that are recognised, and who we can compete against.”
Interestingly enough, Hungarian International Striker, Imre Szabics plays for Sturm Graz and had quite a good season, as well as had a nice showing in the National Team, scoring goals vs Luxembourg and San Marino. So it will be interesting to see how Szabics performs vs the Hungarian Champions, and how fellow national team members, Elek, Liptak and Lazar, play against him. It will definitely be an exciting tie!
Predictions: Ferencvaros and Paks to go through. Kecskemet and Videoton – too close to call.