Welsh minnows TNS land dream tie with Liverpool in Champions' League

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The Independent Football

There was relief in Liverpool, delight in Wales and a frisson of excitement across the Irish Sea. Only Celtic were left deflated by the draw yesterday, in Nyon, Switzerland, for the opening qualifying rounds of the Champions' League.

For Liverpool, the holders, and Total Network Solutions, the Welsh champions, the draw for the first qualifying round was near-perfect. Liverpool, who feared being handed an eight-hour trip to Kazakhstan to play Kairat Almaty, instead have a short coach trip across the border. TNS have the pay-day they cleverly sought to engineer, while Uefa was debating the defending champions' entry into the competition, by offering to play Liverpool in a one-off pre-qualifier. They now get a trip to Anfield and a lucrative home match that will probably be played at Wrexham.

"A village team playing the European champions, it's unbelievable," said Ken McKenna, the TNS manager. "But I'd have preferred a draw which gave a chance of reaching the third round, when the big boys come in, like Everton." McKenna is an Evertonian.

McKenna's team includes so many Scousers they have been training by the Mersey but the club hails from Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, south-west of Oswestry, and were playing in the Montgomeryshire League as recently as 1990 - the season Liverpool last won the English league championship. They climbed three tiers into the League of Wales and, in 1997, took the name of a locally based computer networking company. In Europe they have drawn at home to teams from Poland and Estonia and in 2003 lost 7-0 on aggregate to Manchester City in the Uefa Cup.

The tie's winners will play HB Torshavn, of the Faroe Islands, or Lithuania's FBK Kaunas in the second round. While this offers some logistical problems it could have been far worse. Ask Celtic. Unless Kairat Almaty are knocked out by Artmedia Bratislava, of the Czech Republic, in the opening round Gordon Strachan's team will make that trip to Kazakhstan in the second round. Celtic must play the away leg during the week before the Scottish season starts on 30 July.

The draw also threw up an all-Ireland tie pitting Glentoran, from the north, against Shelbourne, of the south. Victory will bring bragging rights and the dubious reward of a second-round tie against formidable, but unglamorous Steaua Bucharest, former winners from Romania.

From Llansantffraid to Anfield in just 15 seasons

Liverpool's opponents, TNS, have lived a footballing fairy-tale in the past 15 years. The club hail from Llansantffraid, in north Wales, a community of only 1,000 people.

They will tackle the new kings of Europe for the right to a place in the Champions' League second qualifying round over two legs in July.

The club are named after their sponsors since 1997, Total Network Solutions, having been launched in 1959 as FC Llansantffraid.

Their big break came in the 1990s, winning three promotions in four years to reach the top-flight. The big money of TNS then arrived, and they are now a fully professional unit.

They secured a league and cup double in 2005.

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