Last Friday’s AFCON final might have finally marked the end of a gruelling 2018-19 season for superstars like Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez, but elsewhere the 2019-20 campaign is well underway for teams like The New Saints of Wales and FC Kobenhavn of Denmark – and these early Champions League qualifiers are potentially season-defining. This is the first of the two-legged affair between the two sides, due to be played on home soil for The New Saints at the Park Hall Stadium in Oswestry.
The New Saints were able to get into the rhythm of the new season with their first competitive fixtures since mid-May’s Welsh Cup win over Connah’s Quay. Their first qualifiers came against Kosovan side Feronikeli – they drew the first home leg 2-2 before coming out on top with a 1-0 win in the second leg, away from home. This is a team used to winning; they lifted their 13th Welsh title last season with a 12-point lead over second place. However, they’ve historically struggled against strong sides from the continent and always exited Champions League qualification in the early stages in the past.
Kobenhavn’s advantage when it comes to the early Champions League qualifiers is that they’re well prepared due to the Scandinavian football calendar, which runs through the summer months. Kobenhavn began their campaign to retain their Danish Superliga title ten days ago when the 2019-20 domestic season began. They’ve won both games so far, conceding but outscoring the opposition, after a series of underwhelming pre-season friendlies, where they lost three of four, drawing the other 0-0, and scoring just once.
The New Saints will likely go with the same team that came out on top 1-0 in Kosovo, although more trust could be placed in the match-winning hero Dean Ebbe, who scored within a couple of minutes of being introduced on that occasion. The danger man is undoubtedly Greg Draper, who earned a New Zealand cap a decade ago, and has been a talisman during The New Saints’ recent era of Welsh dominance. He’s scored 12 goals in his last 10 appearances for the club.
There are a few more recognisable names in the Kobenhavn line-up, including a few tried-and-tested former Premier League stars. There’s former Hull striker Dame N’Doye and former Manchester United right-back Guillermo Varela alongside playmaker Viktor Fischer, once thought to be one of the emerging creative talents in European football before moving to Middlesbrough, all featured in last Friday’s 2-1 win over AGF and could well do so again here.
One thing is clear; Kobenhavn are overwhelming favourites for a reason, with a proven record, coming out on top of a league with a lot more money and quality than that of Wales. Fellow Danish powerhouse Midtjylland have won by a three-goal margin twice away at The New Saints, and there’s little to suggest this will be any different – that’s why 4/11 with Bet365 for a Kobenhavn win is a safe choice. However, Kobenhavn have conceded in each of their two league games this season, so that can be extended to 9/4 for both teams to score and Kobenhavn to win. The New Saints’ last qualifier at home finished 2-2, with plenty of action at both ends, so 7/10 for over 2.5 is an intelligent bet.