Sheriff Tiraspol and Zrinjski Mostar will lock horns for the second leg of their Champions League first qualifying round contest on Tuesday evening, with the tie delicately poised.
Neither team could find the back of the net in the first leg last week, but Sheriff will now have home advantage and are the favourites to progress to the second qualifying round of the competition.
Sheriff famously competed in the group stage of last season’s Champions League, beating Teuta, Alashkert, Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb in the qualifying rounds, and they were drawn in Group D alongside Shakhtar Donetsk, Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
The Moldovan outfit incredibly beat Real Madrid 2-1 at Bernabeu last September, and they actually finished third in Group D, which gave them another chance of European success in the Europa League, but the Yellow-Blacks lost to Portuguese side Braga on penalties.
Sheriff are back in the first qualifying round of the Champions League courtesy of their title success last season, finishing with 70 points from their 28 league matches.
The Wasps have now won Moldova’s top division on 20 occasions, while they have plenty of experience in the Champions League, playing 85 times in the competition, boasting a record of 31 wins, 18 draws and 36 losses.
Stjepan Tomas’s side, who will begin their 2021-22 league season at the end of July, would take on the winners of Maribor and Shakhtyor Soligorsk if they were to progress to the second qualifying round.
Zrinjski, meanwhile, are the reigning Bosnian champions, lifting the trophy for the seventh time last season, boasting a points tally of 84 from their 33 games during a brilliant campaign.
The Noblemen have not been present in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League since the 2018-19 campaign, when they lost to Spartak Trnava in the first round, but they did reach the third qualifying round of the Europa League back in 2020-21.
Zrinjski have only actually played 13 times in the Champions League throughout their history and have only managed two wins, which is an indication of the size of their task this year.
Sergej Jakirovic’s side more than held their own in the first leg, though, and will certainly believe that they are capable of upsetting the odds and progressing to the next stage of the competition.
Zrinjski are due to begin their league season against Sloboda Tuzla on July 16, and they played two friendlies ahead of the first leg with Sheriff, recording wins over Mura and Varazdin.
Sheriff boss Tomas made three changes during the course of the first leg; two of those were tactical, but Iyayi Atiemwen went off with an injury complaint, and he is likely to miss out.
Atiemwen had only been on the field for eight minutes before he was replaced, so it could be an unchanged side from the one that took to the field for the first leg last week.
It seems unlikely that the Moldovan side will alter their formation, so they should again set up in a 4-3-3, with Rasheed Akanbi operating at the tip of the attack, while Abou Ouattara is also in line to feature in the final third.
As for Zrinjski, head coach Jakirovic will have been delighted with what he saw from his players over the course of the 90 minutes last time out, but he did make a half-time change in the first leg.
Indeed, Karlo Kamenar was introduced for Petar Sucic, and the former could come into the starting XI on Tuesday in potentially the only alteration.
Nemanja Bilbija skippered the team from centre-forward in the first match, and the 31-year-old will again lead the Bosnian outfit against Sheriff in the second leg.
Sheriff Tiraspol possible starting lineup:
Abalora; Guedes, Kiki, Radeljic, Kpozo; Badolo, Kyabou, Lushkja; Yansane, Akanbi, Ouattara
Zrinjski Mostar possible starting lineup:
Condric; Corluka, Magdic, Barisic, Bekic; Savic, Kamenar; Ticinovic, Jukic, Cuze; Bilbija