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A Final thing

In a decisive week for Leagues and Cups across the continent, Cliftonville fans have extra reason to invest in the forthcoming Europa Conference League Final in Athens.

As supporters who have been keeping an eye on our regularly updated European Guide will attest, the list of the Reds’ potential second qualifying round opponents in next season’s tournament is almost complete, and Wednesday’s contest at the AEK Arena will have a major bearing – because if Olympiacos lose to Fiorentina, the Greeks will join the competition at the same stage as Cliftonville and could well be bound for Solitude this summer.

If, however, the Piraeus outfit lift the trophy, then compatriots Aris are primed for Conference League qualification.

Another outstanding issue could, meanwhile, see the Reds in line to face a former European foe. Hapoel Haifa, with whom we drew 1-1 in an historic Intertoto Cup clash back in 1996 (below), would be the beneficiaries if Hapoel Be’er Sheva defeat Maccabi Petah Tikva in Friday’s Israel State Cup Final – and would see them join AEK Larnaca and DAC (and possibly even Copenhagen and KAA Gent) as previous continental opponents in next term’s draw.

The weekend just past saw a number of matters resolved in countries across Europe, including the Netherlands, where Go Ahead Eagles booked their place courtesy of yesterday’s Play-Off victory over Utrecht, while Universitatea Craiova overcame Universitatea Cluj on penalties to seal Romania’s remaining berth.

While it is important to remember that – with the exception of Crusaders and Linfield – the Reds could conceivably be paired with the majority of teams from the Conference League’s first qualifying round, the possibility of facing a side dropping out of the Europa League no longer exists and, of our 43 potential opponents, only nine remain completely unidentified.

But how and when will those nine be determined?

Wednesday, May 29
Conference League Final: Olympiacos v Fiorentina
(Olympiacos will enter the second qualifying round if they lose)

Thursday, May 30
Israeli State Cup Final: Hapoel Be’er Sheva v Maccabi Petah Tikva
(Hapoel Be’er Sheva will enter the second qualifying round if they lose, with Hapoel Haifa set to replace them if they win)

Friday, May 31
Czech Play-Off Final: Mlada Boleslav v Hradec Kravlove
Danish Play-Off Final: Copenhagen v Randers

Sunday, June 2
Belgian Play-Off Final: KAA Gent v Genk

TBC by Saturday, June 1
Any four of the following:
– Brann (Norway)
– Drita (Kosovo)
– St Gallen (Switzerland)
– Austrian Play-Off winners (Hartbeg v Austria Wien)
– Bulgarian Play-Off winners (CSKA Sofia v Arda or CSKA 1948)
– Winner of the first qualifying round tie involving Partizan (Serbia)
– Winner of the first qualifying round tie involving Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
– Winner of the first qualifying round tie involving either Velez (Bosnia) or Buducnost/Jezero (Montenegro)

With so much still up in the air, it’s worth keeping a daily check on our regularly updated European Guide, which simplifies all the ifs, buts and maybes as various Leagues and Cup competitions across the continent reach their conclusions in the coming days.