FC Midtjylland and AEK Larnaca will begin their pursuits of a Champions League group-stage place with the first leg of their second-round qualifying tie in the league path at the MCH Arena on Tuesday night.

The hosts finished second in the 2021-22 Danish Superliga, while Larnaca also settled for the runners-up spot in the Cypriot First Division.

For the third time in four seasons, Midtjylland were forced to accept second place in the Danish Superliga, as they ended the season three points adrift of eventual champions Copenhagen but did at least add another Danish Cup to their cabinet.

First place in the Superliga would have handed Bo Henriksen’s side a free pass into the Champions League playoff round, but the Wolves will now have to do it the hard way if they are to make it into the group stage for just the second time in their history.

Midtjylland were involved in the opening Danish Superliga clash of the 2022-23 season on Friday night against Randers, where Gustav Isaksen would score the first goal of the campaign before Adam Andersson drew the visitors level in a 1-1 draw.

Wrestling the domestic title off of Copenhagen’s hands will be a priority target for Henriksen and co this term, but the hosts have only ever been eliminated from the second round of Champions League qualifying once before and will attempt to make it into the Europa League group stage for the second consecutive year if they fall at this hurdle again.

While Midtjylland do have a collection of Danish top-flight titles to go alongside their plethora of second-placed finishes, AEK Larnaca are yet to finish as top dogs in Cyprus and came so close yet so far to doing so in 2021-22.

The Green-yellows found themselves four points worse off than champions Apollon Limassol as they finished second in the division for the fifth time since 2015, and a much-coveted Cypriot First Division title still eludes the Champions League contenders.

Jose Luis Oltra is the new man in the hotseat as the Spaniard attempts to finally steer Larnaca to a league crown, and his side have navigated four pre-season friendlies unbeaten with plenty of goals in tow.

Larnaca scored at least two goals in all of their recent friendlies – banking nine in total – but they also failed to keep a single clean sheet and let in a total of seven strikes, and such defensive frailties will need shoring up before the new Cypriot First Division season begins in late August.

The visitors are two-time participants in the Europa League group stage – getting that far in 2011-12 and 2018-19 – and Tuesday’s game will see the Green-yellows step foot onto the pitch for a Champions League game for the very first time.

Midtjylland came through their opening-day draw with Randers without any players entering the treatment room, but goalkeeper Jonas Lossl is not in the squad while he trains with Bournemouth.

The 33-year-old is still contracted to Midtjylland until 2025 but is seemingly on the way out, meaning that Elias Olafsson will wear the gloves as number two David Ousted prepares for one more continental campaign before his retirement.

Highly rated midfielder Raphael Onyedika will definitely start the game.

Attacker Pione Sisto has been ostracized from the squad after a falling out with the powers-that-be, while Junior Brumado is still recovering from a knee injury, so new signing Anders Dreyer ought to lead the line.

Meanwhile, Larnaca goalkeeper Andreas Paraskevas is still on the long road back from a cruciate ligament rupture, but Kenan Piric was always expected to act as the last line of defence here.

Oltra has unsurprisingly welcomed a couple of compatriots to the club in the forms of Ismael Casas and Oier Sanjurjo, and the former could start at right-back on Tuesday night.

Former England Under-21 international Matt Derbyshire is also on the books with Larnaca, but the 36-year-old striker has not been named in Oltra’s squad for this game.

FC Midtjylland possible starting lineup:
Olafsson; Dalsgaard, Sviatchenko, Thychosen; Andersson, Onyedika, Evander, Paulinho; Isaksen, Dreyer, Chilufya

AEK Larnaca possible starting lineup:
Piric; Casas, Milicevic, Tomovic, Gonzalez; Sanjurjo, Mamas, Naoum; Faraj, Lopes, Gyurcso


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