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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Liverpool: Europa League Preview

Liverpool play their first competitive game of the new season on Thursday with a first-leg qualifier for the Europa League group stages against FC Gomel.

The match, which represents the Reds' first ever trip to Belarus, takes place at Gomel's 14,307 capacity Central Stadion, located in the south east of the country, just 130km north of the site of Chernobyl.

Formed in 1959, Gomel have done exceptionally well to make it through to this stage. As recently as 1990 the side, originally know as Lokomotiv Gomel, were in the fourth tier of Belarusian football and only made it back to the top flight in 1998.

Despite a three match pre-season tour of North America in which Brendan Rodgers' side failed to record a win and managed only two goals, expectation will still be for a comfortable victory over their unheralded opponents.

The big team news is the inclusion of Andy Carroll in Liverpool's travelling party. The big striker had been expected to leave the club in the coming weeks but an appearance tomorrow night could be a sign that he is set to stay. His inclusion is an important one with striking options limited by Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy's participation at the Olympics. Fabio Borini, Adam Morgan, Nathan Eccleston and Dani Pacheco are the other alternatives to lead the line.

Due to new UEFA rules however, if Carroll does feature, he no longer becomes cup-tied and therefore chief suitors and fellow Europa League participants, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, are unlikely to be perturbed in their pursuit of his signature.

The most notable absentee from the squad is Alberto Aquilani as he continues to seek a move away from the club with Fiorentina the most likely destination.

Looking ahead to the game, Kop boss Rodgers commented to "Players at this level are competitive so they love the competition. Even though we are still gaining fitness it's a competitive game and it's a tournament we would like to do well in.

"It's a bit of a hike and we've got to get on our travels again, but that's life and you've just got to get on with it. We are looking forward to the game and hopefully it will serve us well for the beginning of the season."

Although the side should qualify with ease, the return leg takes place at Anfield next Thursday, the Premier League will take priority, as expected, during the coming season.

"I don't want to disrespect the competition (Europa League) but there's no doubt the league is our priority and we want to finish as high as we possibly can," added Rodgers.

"The Europa League is a competition we'd like to do well in. Obviously to do well in it you've got to play a lot of games and hopefully that will be the case, as when you play for Liverpool every tournament and every game is a priority."

For supporters travelling to the game, around 300 official tickets went on sale and are to be collected upon arrival in Belarus, the club have released some important travel information and advice.

It read: "Kick-off is 9pm local time, with access into the stadium available from 7.30pm.

"Liverpool supporters attending will be accommodated within sector six. Access to sector six is via gate four, which is clearly marked.

"Upon entering the stadium, supporters will be met and searched by police officers and then have their tickets checked.

"Get your Belarusian visa before arrival. It is possible to get a visa on arrival at Minsk International Airport, but only if you have a letter of invitation from a Belarusian tourist agency, Gomel FC or a Belarusian individual."

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