Rasheed Akanbi should be involved as Sheriff Tiraspol aim to take one step closer to the Champions League group stages during Tuesday’s qualifying third round first-leg tie against Viktoria Plzen at the Zimbru Stadium.
The hosts scraped past Maribor to make it this far, while the Czech giants ran out 7-1 aggregate winners over Finland’s HJK Helsinki.
History repeated itself for Sheriff Tiraspol in the second round of Champions League qualifying, as they only needed the one goal to get the job done against Maribor in the second leg after a goalless stalemate away from home.
Not until the 88th minute was the deadlock broken by substitute Momo Yansane, as the Moldovan champions – who also beat Zrinjski 1-0 in the first qualifying round after drawing the first leg away from home – kept up their stellar streak of defensive resilience to advance.
Stjepan Tomas’s side have now gone four Champions League games without conceding a goal this term, but their defence was breached on the opening matchday in the Moldovan Super Liga on Saturday, being forced to accept a 1-1 draw with Zimbru away from home.
Nevertheless, that stalemate extended Sheriff’s unbeaten run in all tournaments to a whopping 16 matches, and the 2021-22 group stage participants can boast eight wins from their last 10 Champions League home matches, only losing to Real Madrid and Inter Milan in that time.
Sheriff Tiraspol could not demonstrate a sense of ruthlessness in their battle with Maribor, but there was no hint of profligacy when Viktoria Plzen played host to HJK, as the Czech powerhouses hit the Finnish champions for five to advance with ease.
Michal Bilek’s side already had a 2-1 lead to boast from the first leg and scored three of their five goals in the return leg during the opening 45 minutes, with Jan Sykora bagging a brace while both centre-backs in Ludek Pernica and Lukas Hejda also netted.
As is the case with their upcoming third-round opponents, Viktoria Plzen also opened their league campaign with a draw at the weekend – playing out a 2-2 stalemate away to Teplice – meaning that they are already playing catch-up in the race to defend their title.
Plzen have three Champions League group-stage appearances to their name but failed to even make the Europa Conference League proper in 2021-22, and Belik’s side are therefore in no mood to see their European journey come to another early end here.
Sheriff Tiraspol midfielder Steve Ambri was withdrawn at half time in the draw with Zimbru at the weekend, which could further restrict Tomas’s options on the left while Iyayi Atiemwen remains out with a knock.
Atiemwen’s Nigerian counterpart Rasheed Akanbi should therefore earn a start in the final third, and Yansane certainly ought to displace Kay Tejan at the tip of the attack.
Regi Lushkja and Stjepan Radeljic will both miss the second leg if they pick up bookings, but that is unlikely to come into Tomas’s thinking for Tuesday’s encounter.
Meanwhile, Viktoria Plzen captain Hejda was sent off in the dying embers of the weekend’s 2-2 draw with Teplice, but the centre-back will be fine to line up in the Champions League.
Petr Pejsa is still recovering from a long-term knee injury and will not be available, but the visitors should otherwise be working with a fully-fit squad on Tuesday.
Jan Kliment netted off the bench in the 5-0 win over HJK and followed that up with his side’s first goal in the weekend’s clash with Teplice, and Belik should consider the 28-year-old for a starting role here.
Sheriff Tiraspol possible starting lineup:
Abalora; Guedes, Kiki, Radeljic, Kpozo; Badolo, Kyabou, Lushkja; Pernambuco, Yansane, Akanbi
Viktoria Plzen possible starting lineup:
Stanek; Reznik, Pernica, Hejda, Havel; Bucha, Kalvach; Kopic, Sykora, Mosquera; Kliment