Europa League returns to Ireland

This week sees the first round of the Europa League take place, with Bohemians and St. Patrick’s Athletic in action, with Sligo Rovers beginning their European conquest in the second qualifying round. The Saints oddly were drawn against the same Icelandic opposition as last season, while coincidentally Bohs were also drawn against an Icelandic team. To add to the strangeness of this draw, if Pat’s progress, they’ll play NK Siroki Brijeg, the Bosnian team that Bohemians could have played last season had the Siroki Brijeg beaten Olimpija Ljubljana in the first qualifying round.

St. Pat’s Athletic and IBV to go head to head again

Here, we’re going to take a look at the teams that the Irish sides will come up against, and potentially will come up against if Pat’s and Bohs get past their Icelandic counterparts. Robert O’Reardon will examine Shamrock Rovers’ Champions League opposition, Lithuanian league winners FK Ekranas, soon.

UEFA co-efficients place the Icelandic league 8 places behind the League of Ireland. We begin with Kevin Galvin’s dissection of IBV who will play Saint Patrick’s Athletic.

ÍBV Vestmannaeyja, Iceland
Founded: 1903
Stadium: Hásteinsvöllur (1,500)
Manager: Magnús Gylfason
Colours: White and partially red

This is the second time Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja (or IBV if you don’t want to go to the effort of pronouncing that) have been Pats’ first opponents in the Europa League. The club have been on a bit of drought on the trophy front of late, they haven’t won anything in the eleven a side game since their double winning season in 1998, but managed to capture the Icelandic futsal championships in 2012. In total they have won 3 league titles and 4 Icelandic Cups.

This is the second time in two years IBV are in the competition through a third placed finish, and the furthest they have ever gone in a European competition was the 2nd Qualifying Round in the 1999/00 Champions League.

The team are based on an archipelago off the southern coast of Iceland, known as Vestmannaeyjar. This years’ team sit 3rd in the 12 team premier division after nine games, but have played a game more than half of the league. They’re also only four points off 9th place, showing the league is very tight in the middle at this early stage. In third place, they sit six points behind current leaders FH.

IBV have however hit excellent form of late, winning their last four league games. Before this stretch, they had only managed to get two wins in a row this season, doing this only once.

IBV’s ground, where Pat’s will once again visit

That being said, the side boasts one of Iceland’s rising stars in the shape of Þórarinn Ingi Valdimarsson, who has already attracted interest from the likes of Crewe and Portsmouth, and has played the national team from under-17 up to senior level – as well as the international futsal team! They also possess one of Iceland’s most successful footballers, Tryggvi Guðmundsson. Guðmundsson has played for some of Norway’s biggest clubs, including Tromsø and Staebek, notched up 42 caps, and even went on loan briefly to Stoke. Something you may not know about IBV is that they have two Ugandans in their ranks!

The best player the Icelandic team have had in their ranks will have been Hermann Hreiðarsson. The left-back who currently plays for Portsmouth was an absolute rock at the back and also chipped with a few goals. His outstanding form earned him a move to the England in 1997 when Crystal Palace showed an interest in him. He then went on to play in the Premiership for a number of years up until Pompey’s relegation in 2010. Another player familiar to Irish people is Ivar Ingimarsson, who played for Reading and Wolves in the English game, and also made 30 appearances for the Icelandic National side

I can’t see anything other than a Pat’s win here, though IBV won’t be pushovers by any means, they’ve gotten off to a rocky start in their domestic league and with a new manager this year one must wonder what has been changed. The two players mentioned will make like tough for the Inchicore outfit but Pat’s do look better this year than they did this time last year. Chris Fagan has been banging in the goals, nine so far domestically, and Chris Forrester and James Chambers have impressed in midfield.

Prediction: 3-1 Pat’s on aggregate

On to Bohemians‘ Icelandic competition. While Pat’s will be on a tiny island just south of the Icelandic mainland, Bohs will be at the total opposite end of the country, in a northern town named Akureyri, Cillian Shields writes. Playing in European competition for the very first time, Thor Akureyri’s domestic goals are fighting for promotion from the Icelandic second tier. Thor managed to reach the cup final last season, and despite losing it, they were awarded a Europa League berth.

Thor Akureyri, Iceland
Founded: 1915
Stadium: Thórsvollur (984)
Colours: White with red

Thor currently lie in 4th place in the 2012 1. Deild Karla (Icelandic First Division (second tier,)) only three points off Fjolnir and Víkingur Ólafsvík in first and second place. However, such is the competitiveness of the twelve-team league, they’re also only six points above the relegation zone.

Despite being relegated last year, Thor will not give Bohemians an easy tie. The Icelandics were only two points away from safety last season and only six points away from a top half finish. Had one or two results last season gone differently, Bohs would be playing against a decent mid-table premier division outfit.

Atli Sigurjónsson (middle) during his time at Thor Akureyri

To understand more about Thor Akureyri, I talked with Atli Sigurjónsson of Icelandic champions KR Reykjavík. The midfielder played for Thor last season during their historic cup-run. Sigurjónsson told me that in recent seasons, Thor have had an emphasis on using their youth players a lot. Sigurjónsson himself has only recently turned 20, and players his age and even younger made up a lot of a typical starting XI for Thor in the past few seasons.

Pall Gislason has been the Thor manager for some years now and worked with Atli Sigurjónsson and many of his ex-teammates for a long time, bringing them up from a very young age and developing their skills and turning them into, last season, Icelandic premier division players.

During his years at Thor, Sigurjónsson said they’d usually play in an attacking style, but last season were a bit more defensive in the Úrvalsdeild. This season however, they’ve been prone to conceding goals, with eleven let in in their eight games so far, while they’ve scored thirteen as well. Compare this to the bottom two teams of the division, who’ve conceded 14 (BÍ/Bolungarvík in 12th) and 10 (Leiknir Reykjavík in 11th.)

Atli Sigurjónsson was reluctant to admit that Thor have become a weaker team since his departure, but he did mention that that is the opinion of most people in Iceland. If the Akureyri side lost one of their players to the champions of Iceland however, it must suggest that he’s a decent player and would certainly be missed in northern Iceland.

Last Friday, while Bohs were beating bitter rivals Shamrock Rovers 4-0, Thor Akureyri lost 2-0 at home to Vikingur (a team wearing red and black stripes, coincidentally.) The highlights are available here, and in my opinion, which Atli Sigurjónsson has backed me up on and agrees with, midfielder number 19, Sigurdur Kristjansson, looks like he could be a threat. Good at tackling and winning the ball, passing, and he looks like he has good strength as well.

Sigurjónsson also recommends Bohs fans to watch out for Sveinn Jonsson striker, Orri Hjaltalin midfielder, and Srdjan Rajkovic goalkeeper. He also adds; “The most promising player is youngster Orri Sigurjonsson (17 years old) – midfielder.”

St. Patrick’s Athletic vs IBV, Thursday 5th July, 19:45, Richmond Park.

Bohemians vs Thor Akureyri, Thursday 5th July, 19:45, Dalymount Park.


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