Shamrock Rovers have earned safe passage to the second qualifying round of the 2022/23 Champions League.
The reigning League of Ireland champions beat Malta’s Hibernians FC 3-0 on aggregate. And will now face Ludogorets of Bulgaria in the third round of qualification.
The first leg will take place on Tuesday, 19th of July, in Razgrad, Bulgaria. With the return game going down in Tallaght Stadium a week later, on the 26th of July.
While midfielder Danny Mandroiu has departed the club for League One’s Lincoln, and Andy Lyons also rumoured to be England bound, Stephen Bradley has the likes of Jack Byrne and Graham Burke back from injury. With Neil Farrugia, the only significant name not fit to play for the Hoops.
The first clash in this tie will be shown live on RTE 2, and the RTE Player. With a 6.45 kick-off time.
Before the game, the Big Kick Off has you covered for some more information on this difficult encounter for Rovers, as we take a look at their opponents, Ludogorets.
Ludogorets play in the Parva Liga, which is the top-tier of football in Bulgaria.
They’re the current domestic champions, winning the 2021/22 league title, with a comfortable 21-point margin over CSKA Sofia.
This was their 11th consecutive top-flight championship. And they’re leading the way this season, with two wins from their opening pair of league games.
Ludogorets weren’t always the dominant force of Bulgarian football.
They were founded in 1945, after the merger of several minor rural clubs in the region. They initially started life in the Third Division in Bulgaria’s domestic football system. And stayed there until their first promotion to the Second Division in 1961.
In fact, Ludogorets didn’t reach the Parva Liga until 2011, where they’d win the domestic treble, and become only the second ever side to do so after gaining promotion to the top tier the year before.
This success came when Bulgarian pharmaceutical entrepreneur, Kiril Domuschiev purchased the club in 2010, which came with a large financial injection.
However, that was just the start of their fruitful escapades in major UEFA tournaments.
After Swiss outfit, Basel comprehensibly beat them in the play-offs for a group-stage slot in the following seasons Champions League, Ludogorets automatically dropped down into the groups of the Europa League.
They were drawn into Group B with Dutch giants PSV, Ukraine’s FC Chornomorets Odesa, and a familiar foe in Dinamo Zagreb.
Ludogorets finished top of the group undefeated, not bad for their first time in a European group-stage.
Lazio was next in the Round of 32, which the Bulgarians won 4-3 over two legs. Unfortunately, Valencia dumped them out in the Round of 16.
They made the natural progression the following year, and advanced to the group-stages of the 2014/15 Champions League.
But the draw wasn’t kind to the Eagles. Getting put into Group B with European royalty in Real Madrid and Liverpool, along with another old enemy, Basel.
Ultimately, they finished bottom of the group. Ludogorets did register a home 1-0 victory over Basel, making them the first Bulgarian team to win a game in that stage of the historic competition.
They returned to the Champions League groups in 2016/17 with another nightmare draw. This time going into Group A with PSG, Arsenal, and of course, Basel. They finished third, and dropped down into the Round of 32 of that season Europa League. But were beaten by Copenhagen 2-1 on aggregate.
Europa League Regulars
In recent years, Ludogorets have become regulars in the group-stage phase of the Europa League.
In 2017/18 they finished runners-up in Group C behind Portugal’s Braga, but ahead of Istanbul Basaksehir, and German natives, Hoffenheim. They crashed out in the Round of 32 against Italian icons, AC Milan.
The following campaign, they were put into Group A with Bayern Leverkusen, Zurich and AEK Larnaca of Cyprus, but finished bottom.
In 2019/20 Ludogorets were placed into Group H with Espanyol, CSKA Moscow, and Hungarian outfit, Ferencvaros. A second-place finish was enough to see them into the Round of 32, were they faced Inter Milan, and lost 4-1 on aggregate.
During the height of the pandemic, they were apart of Group J in 2020/21 along with Tottenham, LASK of Austria, and Belgium’s Royal Antwerp. They finished rock bottom, without gaining a single point.
Finally, most recently in 2021/22 after missing out on a place in the Champions League groups at the hands of Malmo, they were inserted into Group F of the Europa League. Again, finishing bottom, behind Braga, Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade and Danish team, Midtjylland.
Tall Task For Tallaght
This Ludogorets unit are certainly well experienced in these high-end tournaments with all of this European pedigree.
Of course, this standard of football will always attract international quality talent.
As expected, Ludogorets have multiple players capped for Bulgaria, including club captain, Anton Nedyalkov.
Cypriot striker, Pieros Sotiriou could be a real source of danger for the Shamrock Rovers back-line, along with Brazilian midfielder, Alex Santana.
Benin’s Oliver Verdon, Ghana’s Bernard Tekpetey, and Angola’s Manuel Cafumana have all been capped for their African nations, and could feature over this upcoming two-legged encounter.
A tie with the winner of Dinamo Zagreb and North Macedonia’s KF Shkupi awaits either the League of Ireland, or Bulgarian champs.
It’s set to be an extremely arduous task for Rovers to get past Ludogorets.
Everyone here at the Big Kick Off wished them all the best, and would love to see them one step closer to making history in the Champions League group-stages.
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