There's nothing worse than the deadzone between the end of one football season and the start of another. The endless waiting, the long weeks, the...what, hang on, it's starting tonight?
Yes, you read that right. Just 24 days after Barcelona sealed their fifth Champions League title, beating Juventus 3-1 in Berlin, the tournament gets back underway with the first leg of the first qualifying round; the first of four rounds before the Group Stage. As if that wasn't enough, the first leg of the first qualifying round of the Europa League starts on Thursday. Praise be to the benevolent gods of football.
Naturally, the big guns aren't in action quite yet. No, these teams are somewhat less glamorous, but we'll take what we can get; so pick one of these teams to follow, and watch their European adventure commence.
FC Pyunik (Armenia)
Armenia's most successful club, they won the inaugural Armenian Premier League back in 1992 and have triumphed a further thirteen times since. Their European record is fairly solid: they've reached the second round of qualifiers four times in their history. They're 1/16 to do it again this season; could they make it further and into the group stage this time? In all honesty, probably not. A long shot for the Champions League title.
SS Folgore (San Marino)
No team from San Marino has ever progressed to the second qualifying round of the Champions League and, with SS Folgore becoming champions of Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio for the first time in fifteen years last year, they face a tough task. The underdogs of the underdogs, this side is essentially like eleven puppies existing in a subterranean basement. A long shot for the Champions League title.
THE NEW SAINTS (WALES)
Well we didn't know this until we researched it but The New Saints DON'T EVEN PLAY IN WALES. Mind you Swansea play in the Premier League, so geography doesn't seem to be overly important to the UK. Anyway. They actually play in Oswestry in Shropshire, are a fully-professional side and sauntered to the Welsh title by March last year, losing just one match in all domestic competitions. They've won the title nine times and, famously, between 1997 and 2006 they were known as Total Network Solutions - the first club to properly sell out and be known purely by their sponsor's name and regularly mocked by Jeff Stelling on Soccer Saturday; when they won, he would proclaim: "They'll be dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions tonight!" They've made it past the opening round just once: a long shot for the Champions League title.
B36 Tórshavn (Faroe Islands)
No, not a vitamin, but the current champions of the Faroe Islands Premier League. They've won their domestic title 10 times and enjoyed a golden era between 2005 and 2007 when they twice won two-legged matches in Europe. Captain Jákup Borg is the leader in more ways than one: he employs full-back Høgni Eysturoy in his garage. There's a teacher, carpenter, electrician and a baker. Maybe he'll score a baker's dozen against The New Saints? He probably won't will he. A long shot for the Champions League title.
LINCOLN RED IMPS (Gibraltar)
The champions of the Gibraltar Football League, where eight teams battle it out for the title, with all games played at the 5,000 capacity Victoria Stadium. The league's been running since 1895 (with a quick break for World War II) and the Imps have won the most, with 20 titles. People who complain about La Liga being predictable should probably give it a miss though: they've won the last 12 titles in a row. They played in the Champions League for the first time last year, losing in the first qualifying round to HB Tórshavn. With just one full-time player and a shipping agent, admin clerk and construction worker, they're unlikely to dethrone Barcelona this time around. A long shot for the Champions League title.
FC SANTA COLOMA (Andorra)
Another league with eight teams, FC Santa Coloma are the giants of Andorran football, with nine titles over the 20-year history of the Primera Divisió. They scored a famous victory at this stage last year, with goalkeeper Eloy Casals scoring a 94th minute goal to put the team through on away goals against FC Banants, the first time in eleven attempts that they'd moved beyond the first stage. At the time, he said "I regret not running to the bench but I'm a goalkeeper; I never celebrate goals". A long shot for the Champions League title.
CRUSADERS (NORTHERN IRELAND)
A return to Champions League action for NIFL Premiership team Crusaders, who won their first title since 1997 last season. Hopes will be high after they also secured their first ever two-legged win in Europe last year, triumphing 5-2 over Lithuanian team FK Ekranas before being edged out 5-1 by Swedish team F Brommapojkarna. They play on a 4G synthetic pitch, which was installed in 2009. Manager Stephen Baxter actually played in their last Champions League tie, scoring in the first leg, but being sent off in the second. A long shot to win the Champions League.
FC LEVADIA TALLINN (ESTONIA)
Estonia's premier team, having won nine titles since 1999 - and they even made it to the first round proper of the UEFA Cup in 2006, where they lost to Newcastle United, 3-1 on aggregate. We can't find much interesting information about the team so, instead, did you know that Skype and Kazaa (one of the first successors to Napster) were both written by Estonian developers? Neither did we. A long shot for the Champions League title.