BALLYMENA United travel to Sweden on Thursday evening to face Malmo FF in the 1st leg of their UEFA Europa League 1st Qualifying Round tie.
This is the first time the sides have met, and comes hot on the heels of a fantastic 2-0 aggregate victory over Faroese side NSI Runavik, United’s first time getting through a round in Europe.
The Swedish giants hold the honour of being the most successful league side in Sweden, and also of being the only Scandinavian club to reach the final of the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League), where they lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in 1979, a Trevor Francis header the only goal in the game.
They’ve created a lot of history in Swedish football, being the first club to introduce youth teams, leading to the formation of their highly acclaimed youth academy. Englishman Roy Hodgson managed Malmo between 1985 and 1989, winning 2 Swedish Cups and 5 league titles in a row, and is still held in high regard by the Club where he is known as
Including the qualification stages, Malmo have participated in the European Cup and UEFA Champions League 17 times, and in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League 15 times, along with playing in other now defunct European competitions such as the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Intertoto Cup.
With 10 wins, 4 draws, and a single defeat in the 2019 Allsvenskan, they currently sit in the top spot in the league table with 34 points, 6 ahead of nearest side AIK. The last time they tasted defeat was 6th April 2019 when they lost 3-1 away from home to GIF Sundsvall.
Unlike Malmo, who are well into their season, the Sky Blues have only played 2 competitive games this season, beating NSI Runavik 2-0 at home and drawing 0-0 in the Faroe Islands.
United have faced some other European giants in their history, losing 2-0 at home and 4-0 away to AS Roma in the 1981/82 season after winning the Irish Cup the previous season. After winning the Irish Cup in 1989, United’s heaviest European defeat was at the hands of Belgian side RSC Anderlecht with a 6-0 loss in Brussels and a 4-0 defeat back in Ballymena resulting in a 10-0 defeat on aggregate.
Finishing second in the Danske Bank Premiership last season, Ballymena United automatically qualified for the Preliminary Round of the UEFA Europa League this season, and it was a fantastic sight to see the Braidmen running out onto the Showgrounds pitch for a European tie for the first time since 2004.
Hopes were high going into the 1st leg, but it took a superbly drilled performance to secure the win, Runavik proving to be stiff opposition. The breakthrough came in the 49th minute, Cathair Friel reaching a cross and knocking it down to Leroy Millar who made no mistake in firing past Tordur Thomsen to make it 1-0 to the hosts. Just 6 minutes later it was Jude Winchester who picked up a loose ball, taking a touch before curling a stunning effort from just inside the box into the top corner. United were resolute in defence when they travelled for the 2nd leg, managing to deal with almost consistent pressure from the home side. As the final whistle went, the United players ran over to celebrate with the travelling supporters and officials, setting up the tie against Malmo FF.
Match tickets will be available to buy at the New Malmo Stadium on the night of the match. Tickets will cost 140 Swedish Krona – around £12 – and card payments will be accepted.
Referee: Igor Pajac. Assistant 1: Ivica Modric. Assistant 2: Bojan Zobenica. 4th Official: Ivan Bebek.
Entrance to the game is by ticket only.
Kick off is 7:00pm (Swedish time) and 6:00pm (UK time).
This is a huge game for United, possibly the biggest in the history of the Club, and it will give the squad a chance to test their skills against a full-time team filled with international players. With a capacity of 24,000, the travelling United fans will be vastly outnumbered again, but, as always, will make themselves heard. We hope for a safe journey for all supporters travelling to the game – enjoy the game and be loud and proud in support of YOUR team – Come On Sky Blues!
Match Preview by Paul Irwin