Home Andy Waterworth hopes Linfield can fly high in Champions League once again as they prepare for Tre Fiori test

Andy Waterworth hopes Linfield can fly high in Champions League once again as they prepare for Tre Fiori test

A new season and new European adventure officially begins for Linfield this afternoon and it's a dream they feared would be crushed by Covid-19.

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A new season and new European adventure officially begins for Linfield this afternoon and it’s a dream they feared would be crushed by Covid-19.

Amid a global health crisis, face masks, hand sanitising and Covid-19 testing are now part of the game and the players are simply relieved to be back in business.

The Danske Bank Premiership champions have not played a competitive match since beating Carrick Rangers on March 7 in the last round of Irish Premiership fixtures before lockdown.

With lockdown restrictions gradually easing, they are now back in the air and on the road, ready for another rollercoaster ride in Europe.

David Healy’s men face Sammarinese side Tre Fiori in Nyon in the opening qualification preliminary round semi-final in Nyon today (kick-off 2pm), keen to repeat, or better, last year’s long qualifying run that brought them to within one goal of the Europa League group stage.

What a journey that was, but there were fears the pandemic would end Irish League participation in European qualifiers this year. But the games are going ahead, behind closed doors, with Irish Cup winners Glentoran and league runners-up Coleraine in Sunday’s Europa League preliminary round draw.

Linfield striker Andy Waterworth, who joined his team-mates on the charter flight from Belfast International Airport to Geneva yesterday, said: « At the start of the pandemic you were thinking there might not be European football this year, so it’s nice to have it back and kick off the new season with fresh challenges. I became the club’s leading goalscorer in Europe last year and it’s been good to me, so I’m hoping to get an opportunity to add to that tally and experience European football again. »

The two semi-finals in Nyon see Linfield face Tre Fiori and Kosovan side Drita taking on Andorra’s Inter Club d’Escaldes at the Colovray Stadium.

If the Blues beat the Sammarinese champions in their one-legged semi-final, they will face the winner of the other last-four clash in Tuesday’s final.

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If Linfield fail to progress, they will drop into the Europa League second qualifying round as an unseeded team. Seeded sides include Tottenham and Rangers.

Should they advance from the preliminaries, however, they will compete in the Champions League first qualifying round, which will also feature one-legged matches.

If Linfield were to exit the first qualifying round, they would enter the Europa League second qualifying round as a seeded team. Should they lose in the Champions League second qualifying round, they would compete in the third stage of the Europa League qualifiers. Last season, the Blues reached the Europa League play-offs, where they were eliminated on away goals by Qarabag after their tie finished 4-4 on aggregate.

« The memories of last year were very positive, and if we can replicate that this year we would be flying again, » added Waterworth.

« The boys have not been playing football for a long time, and it doesn’t help the preparations, but we’ve had a few friendly matches and it’s in all our interests for the teams to be as best prepared as they can. Good results and performances from the teams boosts the Irish League’s co-efficient and we should all be coming together for that. »

New signings Chris Johns, Conor Pepper and Navid Nasseri could be involved, while Healy is waiting on international clearance for French striker Christy Manzinga.

But the Blues, who have allowed youngster Jake Corbett to go on loan to Ards, will be coming up against a man who’s no stranger to World Cups and Champions League finals.

The Hawk, real name Mario Ferri, is the new signing in Tre Fiori’s ranks and arrives as a cult hero of Italian football.

Not known for his own playing abilities, it is his proficiency as a pitch invader that has earned him fame, with his ‘successful’ excursions including the 2010 World Cup semi-final and 2011 Champions League final at Wembley. In the 2010 World Cup, he took to the pitch during Spain’s semi against Germany to protest the omission of then Sampdoria star Antonio Cassano from an Italian squad that had suffered a scandalous group stage exit.

A year later, Ferri turned his attention to the Champions League final at Wembley between Barcelona and Manchester United. Successfully making it onto the pitch, he hung his AC Milan scarf around Lionel Messi.

• Former Northern Ireland boss manager Michael O’Neill will bring his Stoke City side to Belfast next week for training and a match against Linfield.

The Championship side’s pre-season preparations get under way for the beginning of next season on 12 September.

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SOURCE: https://www.w24news.com

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