Who Hibs might face in Europa Conference League as seeding groups could offer clue

Numerous clubs could lie in wait for Hibs in Europe – but who might they realistically face?
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Hibs’ participation in the 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League was confirmed by Celtic’s 3-1 victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup final. The Easter Road side enter the competition at the second qualifying round stage, mirroring their first involvement in the tournament in 2021/22 when they defeated FC Santa Coloma of Andorra before being knocked out by Croatians HNK Rijeka in the third qualifying round. The draw takes place on June 21, with the two-legged tie taking place on July 27 and August 3, but the draw for the third qualifying round on July 24 will also be of interest as the identity of potential future opponents will become clear.

Second qualifying round main path – who’s involved?

Hibs are seeded for the draw meaning they are guaranteed to avoid some of Europe’s big hitters such as Club Brugge, Beşiktaş, and Lech Poznan – for this round at least. A total of 19 potential opponents for Hibs are still to be confirmed, with the draw for the first qualifying round taking place on June 20.

The Hibs squad are put through their paces ahead of the second leg against Santa Coloma in Andorra in July 2021The Hibs squad are put through their paces ahead of the second leg against Santa Coloma in Andorra in July 2021
The Hibs squad are put through their paces ahead of the second leg against Santa Coloma in Andorra in July 2021
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However, the identity of 24 unseeded teams has already been established. Petrocub Hîncești of Moldova are the highest-ranked unseeded team, while other confirmed teams are Vojvodina of Serbia; Swiss side Luzern; Vorskla Poltava of Ukraine; Prague outfit Bohemians 1905; Danish side AGF; Beitar Jerusalem of Israel; Hammarby and Kalmar of Sweden; Lithuanian side Kauno Žalgiris – who can count former Hibs striker Deivydas Matulevičius among their ex-players; Pogoń Szczecin of Poland; Hungarian trio Debrecen, Zalaegerszeg, and Kecskemét; Sepsi of Romania; Gabala and Sabah of Azerbaijan; Bosnian side Borac Banja Luka; Kazakhstan representatives Ordabasy and Aktobe; Slovenian side Celje; Auda of Latvia; Differdange 03 of Luxembourg; and Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino of Belarus.

Which teams are involved in first-round qualifying?

There are a lot of seasoned operators in the first-round draw. Maribor and Santa Coloma will be well known to Hibs fans, while there are other continental regulars such as Linfield, F91 Dudelange, HB Tórshavn, and the likes of Shkëndija, Shkupi, Alashkert, and Dinamo Batumi. Torpedo Kutaisi, managed by former Hibs academy chief Steve Kean, are also in the hat for the draw.

There are a handful of European debutants as well – Arsenal Tivat of Montenegro, for the first time in their 109-year history; 2009-founded Hegelmann of Lithuania, managed by former Dunfermline defender Andrius Skerla; Belarus side Isloch Minsk Raion; KF Egnatia of Albania, and Welsh side Penybont.

Doesn’t the list of potential opponents get whittled down at some point?

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Yes. While not regionalised, clubs may be split into seeding groups ahead of the draw with a computer programme used to keep apart teams from the same association and ensure that all groups are of similar strength, in terms of coefficient ranking.

In 2021/22, Hibs (6.675) could have drawn Santa Coloma (4.500), Vålerenga (4.200), Bohemians (1.575), Shkupi (3.000) or Larne (1.391). In the previous round Bohemians and Larne had both beaten teams with a higher coefficient and effectively assumed the beaten clubs’ coefficient ranking for the next round. If this year’s draw follows a similar pattern Hibs could be grouped with teams such as Bohemians 1905, Beitar Jerusalem, Hammarby, Pogoń Szczecin – or even Steve Kean’s Torpedo Kutaisi.

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