The Welsh champions tackle the Northern Irish champions in Oswestry this evening as head coach Limbrick leads his side into European football’s premier competition for the first time.
The first qualifying round two-legged tie between two sides from the British Isles promises to be a fascinating one as south Belfast visitors Linfield – managed by legendary all-time Northern Ireland top scorer David Healy – come to town.
The jury is out on who enters the contest, a huge money-spinner for the victor with the promise of a lucrative continental adventure ahead, as favourites. Both squads are full-time, but the UEFA coefficient – the statistics to rank and seed clubs and leagues for competition – ranks Northern Ireland (41st, 7.333) clear of Wales (48th, 5.000).
“I’ve a lot of respect for the opposition, they’ve won the league for the last five years in a row,” explained Limbrick, whose TNS side romped to the Cymru title with a mammoth 80 points last term.
“They are a very good, hard-working side, they are very well organised, they have good attacking threats.
“They’ve signed a striker we know well in Robbie McDaid (from last season’s opposition Glentoran), we’ll have to wait and see if he’ll be registered in time.
“With the management they have, Healy, he’s been there five or six years and won five leagues in a row, and being an experienced player he knows the game well.
“It’s an exciting challenge, I think it’ll be quite an even game, two evenly-matched teams that can both beat each other on their day.
“I think that makes it really interesting and it’ll be quite even and tight in areas of the pitch.
“The team who can defend each other’s threats the best will win the tie.”
The winner of TNS and Linfield will face either Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt or Faroese champions KI next. Defeat at that stage then drops into Europa League qualification.
The loser of this tie will enter the Europa Conference League second qualifying round – TNS went one step further in that competition last season.
The Saints’ European adventure ended in dramatic heartbreak last season. TNS were 5-2 ahead on aggregate against Czech big-hitters Viktoria Plzen before they surrendered the lead late on and exited on penalties.
Limbrick, 39, could hand out three debuts, including to ex-Shrewsbury winger Josh Daniels, and ahead of his first Champions League outing as head coach, admits the premier competition is a big pull.
He said: “Without a doubt it’s a big pull to come to the club, it’s one that really excited me to be competing first for domestic trophies and having the opportunity to coach in Europe.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to do that last season and we were devastated with how we got knocked out.
“But we more than acquitted ourselves and want to improve on it, so being able to start in Champions League qualification – playing teams who have won their league as well – is really exciting.
“They are all good teams and it’s a real coaching challenge.
“And the players are really looking forward to it. It’s a big pull. We used it as a huge selling tool for the new players we’ve recruited, who you could say are Football League players, to get them into the Welsh league, to compete and win trophies but also to play in Europe and the Champions League.”
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