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FK Teuta kick start their domestic season on the 27th August in the Albanian Super Cup final. This year they won their first league title since 1994, sealing it on the last day of the season on goal difference.
Manager Edi Martini is in his second spell in charge. The former international midfielder had a two-year stint at Eintracht Frankfurt in the late 90s when he fled war-torn Albania for Germany.
The Teuta squad contains five senior internationals, one for Macedonia and four for Albania, including their left-back and captain Renato Arapi.
Dejvi Bregu was Teuta’s top scorer last season with 16 league goals but he has joined Turkish club Boluspor. Their next highest scorer was 22-year-old forward Lorenco Vila on 10 goals.
Tueta’s ever-presents in their 2020/21 campaign were 36-year-old goalkeeper Stivi Frasheri and 33-year-old midfielder Emiljan Vila, a cousin of Lorenco.
‘The Boys of the Sea’ play at the Niko Davana Stadium in Durres, with a capacity of 12,040. However, the second leg of this tie will be held at the Elbasan Arena, the home ground of KF Elbasani (12,800) to fulfil UEFA criteria. Rovers haven’t gone through on the away leg in Europe since 2011 in Belgrade.
Tirana will host the final of the inaugural Europa Conference League next May, in the brand new National Arena in the Albanian capital.
Teuta’s UEFA coefficient ranking prior to the 2021-22 season was 340th, compared to Shamrock Rovers in 254th place. In association rankings, the Balkan nation are in 38th place, four spots above Ireland.
Teuta were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Sheriff in the first qualifying round of the Champions League and came from two goals down in the first leg to beat Andorran outfit Inter Club d’Escaldes 3-2 after extra-time in their Conference League second qualifying round tie.
Last season, in one legged Europa League ties played at home, they beat Beitar Jerusalem 2-0 and lost 4-0 to La Liga side Granada, who went all the way to the quarter-finals of the competition. Beitar Jerusalem was the first time that the Durres side progressed through a round in Europe since 2002.
This is Rovers’ first encounter with Albanian opposition. The only previous meeting between League of Ireland and Albanian clubs was when Sligo Rovers lost to Vllaznia Shkoder in the 2009/10 Europa League.
In the first leg against Slovan Bratislava, Ronan Finn broke Ollie Cahill’s record for the most European appearances made by an outfield League of Ireland player, by playing his 42nd game. Danny Mandroiu and Rory Gaffney both made their European debuts.
The attendance at the Tehelné pole was restricted to 500, making it the smallest ever crowd for a Rovers European away game. The previous lowest had been 567 people against Fram Reykjavik in Laugardalsvollur in the 1982 UEFA Cup.
The second leg against Slovan was Rovers’ 20th European game at Tallaght Stadium and it was their sixth win in normal time. Graham Burke, from the penalty spot, scored Rovers’ first Champions League goal in Tallaght since Chris Turner against Flora Tallinn in 2011.
With that goal Burke became Rovers’ all-time goalscorer in European competition (5). Flora Tallinn had been Rovers’ only other Champions League win and the Estonians are potential opponents in the playoff round this year.
Rovers haven’t kept a clean sheet in Europe since the 1-0 home win over Stjarnan in 2017 (12 games). The Hoops failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their first 22 European games from 1957 to 1969, until John Osbourne did it against APOEL in 1978.
Stephen Bradley this season will be in the third longest single spell of any Shamrock Rovers manager in history, second only to Paddy Coad (1949-1960) and John Giles (1977-1983). Tonight he will take charge of his 16th European game as Hoops boss, equalling Michael O’Neill’s record.
In the Slovan home game, Bradley broke John Giles’ club record by winning his fifth European game as manager. He is still level with Michael O’Neill with three knockout ties won.