Haverfordwest County make the journey to North Macedonia this week to take on KF Shkëndija in the first leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round.
The tie will mark the Bluebirds’ return to Europe after 19 years, with Tony Pennock’s men victorious in the end-of-season JD Cymru Premier European play-offs.
Ahead of Thursday’s first leg, we’ve taken a closer look at our opponents to find out what we can expect.
About the club
The club are based in Tetovo, a city in the northwestern part of the country which is home to over 60,000 people.
Founded in 1979 by ethnic Albanians from Tetovo, Shkëndija play their home games at the Ecolog Arena, a 15,000-capacity stadium which was opened in 1981. However, the ground is not suitable to host UEFA matches, and therefore the game will take place at the Toše Proeski Arena in the capital of Skopje, which is the home of the North Macedonia national team.
The Red and Blacks have won the Macedonian First League on four occasions, most recently in 2020-21. They have also won the Macedonian Cup twice, in 2016 and 2018, as well as the Macedonian Football Supercup in 2011.
It’s fair to say that Thursday’s opponents are pretty well versed when it comes to competing in Europe, having done so in 11 of the last 12 seasons.
Although they are yet to reach the group stages in either of the three UEFA competitions, they did compete in the third qualifying round of the Champions League in 2018-19, when they were beaten by Red Bull Salzburg, while they have also reached the play-off round of Europa League qualifying three times, losing out to Gent, AC Milan and Rosenborg.
Last summer, they advanced to the third qualifying round of the Europa Conference League after seeing off Ararat Yerevan of Armenia and Valmiera of Latvia, before losing on penalties to AIK of Sweden.
This will be the second time that they will have met a Welsh side in Europe, having edged past The New Saints 5-4 on aggregate in the first qualifying round of the Champions League in 2018-19. The Macedonians won the first leg 5-0 at home, before the Saints came agonisingly close to securing a comeback with a 4-0 success in the second leg.
Shkëndija booked their place in this summer’s first qualifying round courtesy of a third-placed finish in the 2022-23 Macedonian First League, where they finished one point behind second-placed Shkupi and 11 adrift of first-time champions Struga.
The Shkëndija squad consists of a mix of players from North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There is a smattering of international experience in the squad, which includes players who have been capped either at youth or senior level.
Striker Eraldo Çinari found the net eight times in the league last season – the best return of any Shkëndija player – while winger Adenis Shala provided nine assists.
The man in charge
The Red and Blacks are managed by Ardian Nuhiu, a 44-year-old former midfielder who had two spells as a player with Shkëndija before hanging up his boots in 2016.
His first job in management came with Shkupi, his final club as a player, who he managed between 2016 and 2018.
He would then go on to manage Kosovan outfit FC Drita, where he spent three years between 2019 and 2022.
Nuhiu was only appointed to his current role last month, which means that Thursday’s first leg will be his first competitive game with his new club.