DAVID SMITH - Thursday, June 23, 2011
The first two rounds of Europa League qualifying were set earlier in the week, sending Fulham on a long overseas journey to the Faroe Islands to begin their campaign in the competition.
Fulham were awarded a place in the first qualifying round of the Europa League thanks to UEFA Fair Play rankings, and as a result will be forced to make the 750 mile flight north to face NSÍ Runavík of the Faroe Islands Premier League for their first competitive game of the 2011-12 season.
As the Cottagers will begin their pre-season preparations just days before the first leg, which is set to take place in London on June 30, most of the first teamers will likely not participate.
The opening game will occur just five days after the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, meaning that Clint Dempsey will most likely not be with the team yet. The team has indicated that American forward Eddie Johnson is not in their future plans, however with the the opening round occurring at the very start of the transfer period, he could be called upon to take part in what should be a largely makeshift squad.
Fulham were the surprise of the Europa League two seasons before as they reached the final game only to lose out to Atletico Madrid, however their potential path to the May 9 final in Bucharest will be a long one which would require them to play a total of 23 games in competition.
NSÍ Runavík is participating in their fourth straight European campaign and their seventh in the last nine years. On each occasion, the team was knocked out in the first round, and will likely suffer the same fate against the most prominent team which they will have faced in Europe.
Should Fulham avoid what would be a nearly inconceivable upset, they will have a far shorter distance to travel for their second round opponent, Crusaders FC of the Northern Ireland Premier League.
The draw for the early rounds also saw two other Americans learn their initial opponents.
Alejandro Bedoya and Örebro SK are set to face Bosnian Premier League runners up FK Sarajevo in the second round.
Bedoya is reportedly a summer transfer target for several teams across Europe, however should he still remain with Örebro, he will join the team for their home leg on July 14 and the long trip south to Sarajevo one week later.
Jemal Johnson and Lokomotiv Sofia will have a far less distance to travel when they take on nearby Macedonian team Metalurg Skopje also in the second qualification round.
Johnson was the catalyst to thrust Lokomotiv into the Europa League, firing the winning goal in their final league game which ultimately secured their place. The luck of the draw has them only needing to make a short 100-mile trek southeast to take on the Macedonian Cup winners.
The first round games will take place on June 30 and July 7, while the second round is set for July 14 and 21.
Europa League draw
First qualifying round (June 30/July 7)
Fulham - NSÍ Runavík
Second qualifying round (July 14/21)
Metalurg Skopje - Lokomotiv Sofia
Örebro SK - FK Sarajevo