The journey to the grand finale at Wembley Stadium for the UEFA Champions League 2023/24 season has officially begun. The first qualifying round, featuring 32 teams, kicks off on July 11, 2023. Among the contenders are Lincoln Red Imps, The New Saints, and Larne, the only teams from the United Kingdom in this round. While the odds of these teams reaching the final are slim, the spirit of competition and the allure of the beautiful game ensure an exciting journey ahead.
A Challenge in Gibraltar
On the 11th of July, 2023, the Lincoln Red Imps, Gibraltar’s premier football team, squares off against Qarabağ FK, the stalwarts from Azerbaijan. The match will be held at 17:30 in the Victoria Stadium, a landmark in Gibraltar. The officiating team from Latvia, will be lead by referee Raimonds Tatriks, and assisted by Raimonds Tatriks and Arturs Šakurovs, with Aleksandrs Anufrijevs as the fourth official, will be in charge of the match proceedings.
A Northern Irish Encounter in Finland’s Capital
On the 12th of July, 2023, Larne FC, hailing from Northern Ireland, locked horns with Finland’s HJK Helsinki. The match will take place at 18:00 in the Helsinki Football Stadium, located in the heart of Finland’s capital. The Georgian referee Goga Kikacheishvili, along with his compatriots and assistant referees Giorgi Elikashvili and Davit Chigogidze, and fourth official Irakli Kvirikashvili, will oversee the proceedings of the match.
A Welsh Standoff in the Swedish Arena
The New Saints FC, a stalwart of Welsh football, faces off against Sweden’s BK Häcken on the 12th of July, 2023. The match will start at 19:00 in the Hisingen Arena, situated in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Armenian officiating team, lead by referee Henrik Nalbandyan and assisted by Mesrop Ghazaryan, Khachatur Hovhannisyan, and fourth official Ashot Ghaltakhchyan, will ensure the smooth conduct of the match.
The Road Ahead
The winners of the 16 two-legged ties will advance to the champions path of the second qualifying round. The losing teams will be transferred to the champions path of the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round, with the exception of the tie between Celtic and Sarajevo. The losers of this tie will progress to the third qualifying round due to the rebalancing of the access list.
The Final Destination: Wembley Stadium
The 2023/24 UEFA Champions League season will conclude at London’s Wembley Stadium, a venue steeped in football history and prestige. This will be the 69th season of Europe’s elite club competition and the 32nd since it was renamed the UEFA Champions League. Wembley has hosted seven European Cup finals – more than any other stadium – and will be hosting for a record eighth time. While the journey to this iconic venue is long and fraught with challenges, the dream of playing on such a grand stage is what fuels the teams in this competition.