In Focus: Linfield and FC Zurich08 February 2022
The Jambos face the victors of the third qualifying round with a place in the group stages up for grab.
Let’s take a closer look at who we could be lining up against…
Belfast-based Linfield are one of the oldest football clubs on either side of the Irish border. They play their home games at Windsor Park, also home of the Northern Ireland national team, which has a capacity of 18,434.
Northern Irish legend David Healy - the country’s all-time leading top scorer - manages The Blues having taken over in 2015.
They are the most successful football club in Northern Ireland, with eight Irish Premiership titles to their name, and 56 overall Irish league championships, as well as 44 Irish Cups. Linfield are reigning champions, having pipped Cliftonville to the league title by one point.
That success took them into this season’s Champions League qualifiers, and despite seeing off Wales’ The New Saints 2-1 on aggregate, they were soundly beaten 8-1 on aggregate by Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt, hence their participation in the Europa League.
In modern times The Blues have never made it past the qualifying rounds in any European competition. The closest they got was an agonising Europa League play-off round defeat to Qarabag on away goals in 2019.
There are a couple of Scottish connections in the current Linfield squad, with Daniel Finlayson and Eetu Vertainen on loan from St Mirren and St Johnstone respectively, while Conor Pepper is formerly of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Greenock Morton.
The Jambos have never met Linfield, or any Northern Irish side, in a competitive match however the two teams did face off in a 2017 pre-season friendly at Windsor Park. Jamie Mulgrew put the hosts ahead before Harry Cochrane, Jamie Walker, Isma Goncalves and Cole Stockton goals gave the boys in maroon a comfortable victory.
Unsurprisingly based in Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, FC Zurich are the reigning Swiss champions.
They call the Stadion Letzigrund their home, which can hold 26,104 supporters and was a venue for the 2008 European Championships.
German Franco Foda took over the FC Zurich hotseat in June 2022, replacing Andre Breitenreiter. A former Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen, Stuttgart and Sturm Graz player, Franco has plenty of managerial experience at the likes of Sturm Graz, Kaiserslautern and Austria Wien, winning the Austrian Cup and league title with Graz in 09/10 and 10/11 respectively.
Fifth in the all-time Swiss honours list, behind Grasshopper (27), Basel (20), Servette (17) and Young Boys (15), FC Zurich have 13 league titles to their name, along with 10 Swiss Cup triumphs.
Last season saw FCZ run away with the Swiss Super League title, winning the championship by 14 points.
They were unable to follow up on that success in this year’s Champions League qualifiers, losing out to Qarabag of Azerbaijan 5-4 after extra time.
The Swiss side have a respectable European record, reaching the then European Cup semi finals on two occasions, back in 1963/64 and 1976/77. In more modern times FCZ have made the Champions League group stages, in 2009/10, and have appeared in the Europa League group stages four times, the most recent of which was in 2018/19.
There will be one familiar face in the FCZ squad for Hearts fans with ex-Jambo Donis Avdijaj recently joining them. The winger made three appearances in maroon in the second half of the curtailed 2019/20 season.
Though Hearts have never met FC Zurich in any capacity before, the Jambos have faced Swiss opposition in the past. The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup - the precursor to the UEFA Cup which then became the Europa League - saw both round one home and away legs finish 2-2 against Lausanne in 1963, before the tie was decided in a playoff match which the Swiss won 3-2. The Jam Tarts fared better in 2004, beating Basel away from home in the 2004 UEFA Cup, thanks to a last-minute winner from a certain Robbie Neilson.