Why Champions League first qualifying round matters for Hearts - but not Rangers
The first round of Champions League qualification begins tonight and for one Scottish club, they should have a vested interest.
The first leg of the 15 qualifying ties in the Champions Path take place across Tuesday and Wednesday.
It is Hearts, not Rangers, who will be keeping an eye on how teams progress.
Their interest doesn’t begin until round two when Midtjylland face AEK Larnaca. The winner of that tie will be one of four potential opponents for Rangers.
Hearts, meanwhile, enter at the Europa League play-off round where they could be pitted against a side which drops down from the Champions Path of the Champions League second qualifying round.
Robbie Neilson’s men are a Priority 1 side in the play-off draw and will face one of seven opponents. The winners of the Europa League third qualifying round tie involving Partizan Belgrade, the match involving Slovácko or the five winners of ties involving sides dropping down from the Champions League second qualifying round.
Confused? No wonder. It is far from straightforward.
What Hearts fans will be looking for are, on paper, are some easier potential opponents losing in their Champions League tie.
Remember, these teams will be in the Champions Path so are league winners. Therefore there are some very tricky teams who could be in the draw.
Some of those enter in the first qualifying round across the next two evenings and include, Cluj, Maribor, Ludogorets, Ferencvaros, Malmo, Bodo/Glimt, Lech Poznan – who play Qarabag – and Sheriff Tiraspol.
Ideally, Hearts will want as many of those teams as possible to lose at this stage as they would then drop into the Conference League qualifying.
Dinamo Zagreb, Zurich, Viktoria Plzeň, Olympiacos and Maccabi Haifa are all in the second qualifying round already. All 14 teams mentioned are ones Hearts would ideally avoid as they look to make the group stage of the Europa League.
The good news for Dundee United and Motherwell. None of those sides in the first qualifying round who drop into the Conference League will be possible opponents as they enter a different qualifying path.
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