Who are The New Saints’ Champions League opponents KF Shkëndija?
Welsh Premier League champions The New Saints will play Macedonian First Division champions KF Shkëndija in the First Round of Qualifying of the UEFA Champions League.
How were they like in their league campaign?
Shkëndija remained unchallenged at the top and the title was won fairly early on in their season. 29 wins out of a possible 36 and a 35 point gap over 2nd placed Vardar, gave them just their second league title, after finishing runners-up in the previous season.
Shkëndija flexed their dominance in the Macedonian First League last season. They recorded the biggest home win (5-0 victory over Sileks) as well as the biggest away win of the season (5-0 victory over Pelister) as they romped to the title.
They picked up all the records, going on a six-match winning run and not tasting defeat in 16 games.
Besart Ibraimi was joint top goal scorer with the departed Ferhan Hasani, as the pair scored 44 goals between them, 22 goals each. Brazilian forward Stênio Júnior got on the act scoring 11, whilst Marjan Radeski was there also to score 9 goals.
What’s their squad like?
The Macedonians are without both their captain and their vice-captain Ferhan Hasani and Adrian Cuculi after they failed to agree to new contracts with the club.
Still in their ranks though is Bestart Ibraimi who has been at the club for three years now, scoring nine goals in European qualifying. Marjan Radeski, Stenio Junior and Armend Alimi also have goals on the European stage, with seven goals combined.
Their squad is made up of mostly Macedonian players. The squad also includes Nigerian defender Alma Wakili, Albania midfield Shefit Shefti and Kosovan duo Leard Sadriu andShqiprim Taipi.
Interestingly though, they have a Brazilian forward in Stênio Júnior, who was spotted by Bulgarian side Litex Lovech, since then he has remained in Europe, playing for another Macedonian side Pelister where he scored 7 goals in 17 appearances.
How are they like on the European stage?
They’ve already previously come up against British opposition, when they lost on away goals to Scottish side Aberdeen, back in 2015.
Although they didn’t win the league last season, it was a memorable season for the Macedonian side. Starting in the same round as teams like Bala Town, Bangor City and the Connah’s Quay Nomads, Shkendija reached the play-off round of last season’s UEFA Europa League.
They demolished Moldovan side Dacia Chișinău 7-0 on aggregate, before progressing to the next round where they beat Finnish side HJK Helsinki, who had beaten Welsh Cup winners Connah’s Quay Nomads in the previous round. Up next was then Trakai, who is to play against Europa League play-off winners Cefn Druids, with a 4-2 aggregate scoreline for a second consecutive time.
This is the second time they reached the play-off round. Just a year before they navigated their way through Polish side Cracovia, Azerbaijani side Neftci, Czech Republic side Mladá Boleslav, before being thumped by Belgian side Gent.