Celtic, Hibs and St Johnstone await draw destinies

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Celtic could be paired with Welsh or Irish opponents when their first Champions League qualifying rivals are decided today.

Neil Lennon’s side are seeded in the second qualifying round draw, with Irish champions Sligo Rovers, Danske Bank Premiership winners Cliftonville and Welsh champions The New Saints among the teams Celtic could face.

Celtic are among 17 seeds in the draw with all but two of their possible opponents already known – the champions of Andorra, San Marino, Armenia and the Faroe Islands are the only teams playing in the first qualifying round.

Celtic, whose first game will be on 16-17 July, will have to knock out a total of three teams in order to reach the group stages for a second successive 
season.

The Europa League second qualifying round fixtures will also be decided today, with Hibernian and St Johnstone among the British sides entering at that stage.

The first qualifying round will be drawn first, with Linfield and St Patrick’s Athletic among the seeded teams. Glentoran, Crusaders, Drogheda and Welsh sides Airbus FC, Prestatyn and Bala are among the unseeded sides.

St Pat’s will be seeded for the second-round draw, too, with Hibs and St Johnstone unseeded along with Derry City and Linfield. Uefa will split the 80 potential second-round teams into eight groups of ten this morning to narrow down the potential opponents.

Russian side Rubin Kazan and Belgians Standard Liege are among the leading sides in the draw.

St Johnstone’s opening European game on 18 July will be Tommy Wright’s first match in charge after he stepped up following the departure of Steve Lomas to Millwall. Wright said: “It couldn’t get much more exciting in terms of the European games for the supporters and players.

“Hopefully it will logistically be one that is good for the fans with not too much travelling, and we would obviously like a team we have a decent chance of beating.”

Scottish Premier League runners-up Motherwell enter the competition in the third qualifying round.

Hibs winger Alex Harris, meanwhile, admits he is dreaming of playing a 
central role in their Europa League 
campaign after revealing how he was a ball boy at Easter Road on a memorable European night.

The highly-rated teenager sat by the side of the pitch as nearly 17,000 Hibs fans watched their side battle out a goalless Uefa Cup draw with Ukrainian side Dnipro in September 2005.

But Tony Mowbray’s team crashed out of the first round tie following a 5-1 second leg hammering. Harris, who excelled during the second half of last season after being handed his chance by manager Pat Fenlon, said: “Europe is great for a young boy to play in. Not many Hibs teams have done that over the years. “Hopefully it will be a great experience. I was a ball boy at the Dnipro game a few years ago.

“It wasn’t a great outcome in the end but it was a great experience. That was when the old terracing was there as well so it was a great experience. I’m definitely looking forward to playing in Europe with Hibs at Easter Road.

“I have sampled the atmosphere as a ball boy and now I can’t wait to experience it as a player.”

Today’s Champions League draw in Nyon takes place at 11am, with the Europa League draw starting an hour later. Visit scotsman.com/football for details.