Vaduz vs. Levski Sofia
UEFA Europa League
July 11th, 2018
Wednesday evening marks the beginning of another UEFA Europa League campaign for Vaduz as they welcome Bulgarian side Levski Sofia to the Rheinpark Stadion. The club from the principality of Liechtenstein are about to embark on their eighteenth European journey and while there is little expectation on the club, they will be hoping to go further than ever before, having made significant progress over the last few seasons. This one in Liechtenstein tomorrow evening is perhaps the hardest test Vaduz will have faced this early in the competition.
Vaduz are not your standard European position. There are many quirks about this club and the UEFA Europa League. For example, they are Liechtenstein’s sole representative in European competition and despite playing in the Swiss leagues, they can only qualify for Europe by winning the Liechtenstein Cup. Of course, they usually do. They have only lost that particular competition once in the last twenty-one seasons (2013) and hold the world record for domestic cup wins having lifted the trophy forty-six times. They can also lay claim to the fact that they will be one of the only, if not the only, second-tier side playing European football this season.
However, all of this makes things very difficult for progression for Vaduz and Liechtensteiner clubs. They cannot qualify for the UEFA Champions League (unless they win the Europa League, of course) and always begin the competition at this stage. That they are also the only representative from Liechtenstein, it is a mammoth task to significantly improve the coefficient enough to help Vaduz in future seasons when they appear in Europe. So, for the most part, the Europa League is a novelty for FCV in a season otherwise focused solely on domestic duties and trying to return to the Super League.
This isn’t to say Vaduz aren’t doing their bit in the competition. They reached the Third Qualifying Round for only the third time in 2015 where they would lose to Swiss Super League side, FC Thun (another quirk is that they can face teams from the same league in the knockout round). The last two seasons have been disappointing as the club have only managed to reach the Second Round but considering they faced opposition such as Midtjylland and Norwegian side Odd, it is not surprising. More often than not, Vaduz will run into a bigger name and fall to the wayside. That is the nature of this competition, especially with the seeding used by UEFA.
Vaduz though, do have a proud home record, having lost just one of their last eleven home games in Europe. Midtjylland, Ruch Chorzow, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Thun have all left without victory in the last few seasons. The away record isn’t too bad either, with three defeats in ten games, but it is typically on their travels that their Europa League fate is decided so it is imperative that they take a strong result to the Bulgarian capital next week if they can.
So, what about Levski Sofia? They are a seasoned European club with 15 seasons in the Champions League and 24 in it’s sister competition and are exactly the sort of side Vaduz would expect to run into later in the competition, not now. This season is their third consecutively back in the Europa League and having only been bettered by Maribor and Hadjuk Split in the last two seasons, they will present a very difficult test for the Liechtensteiners over the two legs.
What else is there to know? Well, Levski finished 3rd in the Bulgarian league, way behind CSKA and Ludogorets and they were also Bulgarian Cup finalists, losing only on penalties to Slavia Sofia. They also appeared in the final in 2015 and 2013 but lost both, one in extra-time and one on penalties, last winning the trophy in 2007. Luck not particularly on their side in that compeittion.
There are also a few names in the Levski side that you will be familiar with. Ex-Bordeaux, Manchester United and Newcastle midfielder Gabriel Obertan. Former Barcelona youth product Jordi Gomez and one Swiss football fans will be familiar with: Davide Mariani. Known for scoring some marvellous goals last season for Lugano, Mariani made the move in the summer to Bulgaria and he will know all about Vaduz.
Levski, like Vaduz, are in pre-season and have warmed up for Wednesday with a couple of wins vs. 3rd division side FK Hebar and Ukrainian outfit, Oleksandria. They were beaten though by fellow First League side Septemvri Sofia.
Vaduz haven’t enjoyed their pre-season too much so far. Heavy defeats to Aarau (4-1) and Grasshoppers II (6-1) is certainly worrying, even if these results usually have little meaning. They did manage a 2-1 victory over Zurich in their last outing though so that will provide a much needed confidence boost.
So, it begins again for Vaduz. A very difficult task awaits in the First Round this time and it will be a remarkable achievement if they successfully find their way through but they have every chance, provided they can deliver a strong performance in the capital on Wednesday.