CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) casts his eye over Tuesday night’s Champions League qualifiers.
Lincoln Red Imps v FC Santa Coloma | Tuesday 19:00
Both these ties are intriguing. No, honestly, hear me out. They bring together sides on an upward curve in Europe desperate to make small steps forward in the big picture. This match features the champion of Gibraltar Lincoln Red Imps against the kings of Andorra FC Santa Coloma.
The home side have now been champions in Gibraltar the last 13 seasons and in their latest campaign won the title by 16 points. Santa Coloma have grabbed Andorran football by the balls over the last couple of seasons and won the crown by three points last time out.
A better metric for all these sides is how they’ve coped in European competition. Naturally they’ve all struggled, but you can pinpoint the odd decent result.
The Red Imps made their Champions League debut last season and secured an excellent home draw against HB of the Faroe Islands, a 5-2 defeat away from home soured this but they at least proved they could score at this level.
Santa had a very encouraging campaign and I have to say I tipped them up at this point last year on online channel Tip TV. They faced Armenian champions FC Banants and defied the odds by sneaking through on away goals.
Their next round match was a huge step up in class against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Disgrace themselves? Far from it. Over the two legs they only lost 3-0 on aggregate. Maccabi went on to lose by the odd aggregate goal against Maribor, who themselves went on to knock Celtic out. Decent form!
Paddy Power are as big as 11/8 on Santa and I like that. Last year’s exploits give them the edge over the Red Imps I feel and hopefully they can use that here. The Gibraltar side are also moving in the right direction so I’ll also back Santa to win and both teams to score at a chunky 19/5 with 888 Sport.
Crusaders v Levadia Tallinn | Tuesday 19:45
Similar kind of match. Two teams moving upwards. Let’s start with Crusaders.
The Northern Irish side won their first league title in 18 years in 2014/15 and it bodes well for the club. Stephen Baxter’s side have made the Top 3 in the NIFL Premiership over the last three season and their results in Europe have also been encouraging.
They’ve been in the Europa League the last four seasons and you can trace a slight improvement through that time. Before going all the way to the final Fulham knocked them out in 2011 before two consecutive defeats at the hands of Rosenberg in the following years. Last year though a breakthrough as they knocked out Lithuanian side Ekranas before succumbing to Swedes Brommapojkarna in the next round.
Estonian outfit Levadia Tallinn have won their last two domestic titles and currently sit top in the 2015 season. Unlike Crusaders they’ve won a European tie over the last three season and actually held Sparta Prague in Estonia in the second qualifying round of this competition last season.
Like the first tie, I just feel there’s more experience with the away side and the fact they come into this game already tuned up from summer football is a big plus for me. On Tuesday they’re going for an eight consecutive win, I think they might just get it.