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Blackburn- Just 68 Days to the Intertoto

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Hugh Larkin

Hugh Larkin has a definite policy to support underdogs. Can be relied upon to support any team against Real Madrid and hopes one day to see Walsall as the top West Midland side....
[full biography]
15/05/2007 09:00:00.
read: 913 times.

After Sunday’s results confirmed Blackburn Rovers in 10th place, Mark Hughes can begin planning for an early start to the 2007/08 campaign. On 21st or 22nd July, Rovers will be playing European football.

Despite finishing only 10th Blackburn have an excellent chance of being in the UEFA Cup again because the club put in an entry to the Intertoto Cup. This competition is open to the next four teams outside the qualifiers for the UEFA Cup- this season that means positions 8-11 in the Premiership.

Rovers benefit because Reading and Portsmouth chose not to express an interest and they managed to finish just ahead of Aston Villa. They now have just one tie to negotiate to reach the UEFA cup.

Up to last year the Intertoto was a bit of nightmare with three rounds- and 6 matches- to get through to win the prize. However, like everything else UEFA do, it has been revamped for the benefit of Europe’s big leagues. Representatives from 11 associations are exempt until the third and final round- including the English one.

Blackburn already know part of what they could face. They will take on the winner of tie between a Polish team and the winners of a preliminary Welsh-Lithuania encounter. The Poles are not known yet but Llanelli will be there for Wales, taking on FK Vetra.

The chances are that the Polish team will come through but that would hold no fears for Blackburn after they made a successful trip to Krakow in this year’s UEFA run. Wales would be ideal from a travel point of view but Llanelli have it all to do.

The Welsh team actually start out on 23rd June- beginning even before the Wimbledon tennis is completed. Rovers come into the event on 21st or 22 July, 68 days from now.

While that may seem a bit of a bind at first sight, the manager takes the view that the squad would be involved in pre-season matches anyway, so the two leg tie could be an ideal sharpener to hit the ground running in the Premiership.

While the Intertoto has taken its fair share of stick in the past (from me, for one) sides like Villarreal of Spain have come through it to stake a claim as a regular European qualifier. The current structure does not place a huge burden on clubs like Blackburn and they will start favourites to make it through.

It seems strange that Portsmouth decided not to have a shot at the Intertoto, given the prize available for just two contests but Reading had a clearly ambiguous view of the benefits to be had from European football.

If Rovers do progress it would make them the 8th Premiership side to qualify and there is also a chance that Aston Villa could make it nine. Villa came second to Spurs in the Premiership Fair Play League which means they now become the English team in a draw on May 15th (today). 10 teams from the best behaved European Leagues go into the hat and two lucky sides will win a place in the UEFA Cup. If Villa get the nod, just under half the Premiership could be hosting Continental sides this autumn.

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