Shamrock Rovers will face Bulgarian champion Ludogorets in Razgrad on Tuesday night, aiming for a good result in the first leg of the second round of the Champions League qualifying.
Learn more about League of Ireland champions’ opponents and what hoops can get from a match in Europe.
Who is Ludogorets?
Bulgaria’s football is completely dominated by the clubs in the capital, and four Sofia teams (CSKA, Slavia, Levski, Locomotif) effectively take the league title for 60 years until the starter Ludogorets from a small place called Razgrad arrives. It was cut open.
Ludogorets, a small rural low-league club for decades, is now owned by the billionaire owner of Kirill Domskiev, who made money at a pharmaceutical company.
They were promoted for the first time in 2011, won the league title that year, and are now champions for the 11th consecutive year.
Well, they dominated the roost at home, but what about Europe?
The newly built club had the exit of the first round on its debut in Europe, but since then they have grown at an alarming rate.
They defeated Lazio to advance to the final 16 Europa League games (2014/14), where they played the Champions League group stage for the second year in a row.
Over the last five seasons, they have finished the Champions League in qualifying rounds, but enjoyed the backdoor route to the Europa League and have been on the group stage five times in a row.
So did they put Razgrad on the map?
not really. As the Rover’s Party discovered this week, it’s a small place with a population of only 34,000, and even in Bulgaria’s top 30 population, it’s on par with Kilkenny and hard to reach.
The stadium has a capacity of 12,000, but it is rarely full. The average number of gates in home league games last season was less than 1,000, but it will be around 5,000 for visits to Europe such as Liverpool and Real Madrid.
How much is the ticket?
The best value in Europe, Tuesday night game match tickets started at € 4 and luxury seats were € 7.50.
How are they “Bulgarian”?
Not much. The manager is from Slovenia and there was only one Bulgarian at the start of the XI from the weekend league match (he is a naturalized Brazilian).
Is there a chance for Rover?
Rover’s progress is a miracle and will probably be the greatest achievement in Irish sports since the rugby team won a friendly in New Zealand last weekend.
Ludogorets has not lost their early qualifying relationship with clubs in leagues like Ireland, and Ludogorets is one step ahead of Slovan Bratislava, who recently knocked out the Rover’s.
What will happen next?
If the Rover’s somehow win, they will face their Croatian or Macedonian opponents in the third qualifying round of the Champions League and have another round (playoffs) before the group stage.
If the Rover’s lose to Ludogorets, they may face a tie-breaker for Dinamo Zagreb and Shkupi in the Europa League playoff round, creating a Europa League group stage.
And what if Rover loses it?
They have another back door, this time entering the conference league playoff round and having a real chance to create a group stage phase that missed them last year.
How much do they earn?
Rover has already deposited € 1.4 million in the bank to win his first round, but even if he loses to Ludogorets, at least four games will come, so he will win at least € 2.9 million in UEFA prize money.
Is the match on TV?
Yes, the first leg will be streamed live on RTÉ2 and RTÉPlayer from 6:30 pm tomorrow (kick-off is 6:45 pm Irish time).