WELSH PREMIER FOOTBALL

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THE New Saints will enter the Champions League at the second qualifying round stage after initially being top seeded in the first qualifying round.

This is because the competition's cup-holder spot will not be used because Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have already qualified for the group stage next season.

As a result, the champion of the 13th country on the ranking list (Switzerland) has direct access to the group stage, the champion of the 16th country on the ranking list (Austria) has direct access to the third qualifying round and the champions of the 47th and 48th countries on the ranking list (Northern Ireland and Wales) have direct access to the second qualifying round.

While the change gives TNS an extra two weeks to prepare, it could cost them as much as €200,000 in lost earnings.

In the first qualifying round they would have faced potential beatable opposition from Andorra, Armenia, San Marino or Gibraltar and progress into the second stage would have earned a total of around €525,000 in Uefa solidarity payments, whereas the reward for going straight into the second qualifying round was €350,000 last season.

It is likely that, with a Uefa coefficient of 4.850, TNS will be on the unseeded side of the draw.

Their potential confirmed opponents at this stage are SPL champions Celtic, Bate Borisov of Belarus, Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova), FK Aktobe (Kazakhstan), Ventspils (Latvia) and HJK Helsinki (Finland).