Thursday’s UEFA Europa League & Europa Conference League Qualifiers Predictions & Best Bets

Andy

KuPS v Young Boys (Conference League)

Thursday 4th August – 5:00PM KO

Veikkausliiga leaders KuPS suffered a surprising 2-1 defeat away to Haka on Sunday, coming at the end of a very long week when they had to make an epic voyage to Moldova, beating Milsami 1-4 and looking in great condition. The much-changed line-up included new defender Musah Nuhu but he looked like he had regretted his signing as the goals went in, both coming from crosses from the left of the KuPS defence.

Yet the win in the second leg against Milsami was an open, coherent and lethal display of clinical finishing which has been a feature of the last two seasons under Simo Valakari. Haka are in the top half of the table for a reason but not many would have expected such a display. KuPS have to play this fixture against Young Boys in Turku, 650km away, due to their ground not meeting UEFA regulations and another long trip is not welcome. Last year they hosted Union Berlin in Helsinki and the gulf was huge, the loss of home advantage is not welcome again.

Their Swiss opponents will be confident of progress in this round, especially if they saw the Haka fixture. While KuPS have some very good players and a coach with a good understanding of how to get the best out of them, Young Boys are currently top of a tough league and overwhelmed Liepaja in both legs and the highlights suggested a 4-0 aggregate win was achieved in second gear. KuPS will need to be incredibly disciplined to have any chance of getting through this tie and matching last year’s run. Present form suggests that is unlikely.

Prediction: Young Boys to Win, 1.36 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


Molde v Kisvarda (Conference League)

Thursday 4th August – 6:00PM KO

The previous round resulted in comfortable progression for Molde 6-2 on aggregate against Elfsborg. Many pundits had projected that the Swedish outfit would potentially give them some problems, but they made light work of their Scandinavian rivals. Molde are in a very good place right now, unbeaten in 12 consecutive Eliteserien matches and seemingly full of confidence. They are a side who are usually good at scoring several goals and they possess a lot of good quality attacking players. They have the highest average xG per 90 mins of any team in the Eliteserien (2.16) and could argue that they should have netted even more than the 35 they’ve scored domestically. Striker David Datro Fofana did score in the away leg at Elfsborg last week but continues to miss a lot of good opportunities and frustrate his fans. It has been a major boost to have attacking midfielder Ola Brynhildsen back from injury although key playmaker Magnus Wolff Eikrem remains a doubt.

Travelling to Norway for the first leg are a Kisvarda outfit who are appearing in Europe for the first time in the club’s 111 year history. They finished second in the Hungarian league last season and debuted in Europe by beating Kazakhstani outfit Kairat Almaty 2-0 on aggregate after claiming successive 1-0 wins. It is never easy to travel to the extremes of eastern Europe so they must be given credit for those results. Kisvarda started their own domestic campaign at the weekend and drew 2-2 at home to Debrecen. The Hungarians are expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and striker Jasmin Mesanovic is likely to be the main threat. He netted one goal in the previous round of this competition and was one of their top scorers last season.

The overall Kisvarda gameplan will probably be to try and frustrate Molde and then hit them on the counter-attack. Molde can be vulnerable at times defensively and Elfsborg certainly had their chances in both legs in the previous round. It can’t be ruled out that the visitors get themselves on the scoresheet. Molde are short priced favourites at 1.36 to win and they should prevail comfortably. Backing over 2.5 looks to be a better value bet though. It was very successful taking overs in both matches vs Elfsborg. Molde are usually very attack minded in European matches. Even going back to last season, they easily beat Servette 3-0 at home and had a wild 3-3 draw with Trabzonspor away from home. They could cover this over 2.5 goal line on their own but with the chance that Kisvarda might also contribute then a price of 1.80 for at least three goals to be netted looks extremely generous.

Prediction: Over 2.5 Goals, 1.80 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


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Viking v Sligo Rovers (Conference League)

Thursday 4th August – 6:00PM KO

Both teams claimed big upsets in the previous round. This fixture was expected to be Sparta Prague vs Motherwell but each of these teams totally upset the odds. Viking somehow managed to prevail 2-1 on aggregate against Sparta. In many ways they were battered in both legs, with their Czech opponents amassing neatly 50 shots against them. They misfired a lot, but Viking certainly came under a lot of pressure. A whirlwind 25 yard strike by Viljar Vevatne and then a terrible goalkeeping mistake in injury time allowed the Norwegians to prevail 2-1 in the second leg in front of their own fans. These are not the easiest of times for Viking. They lost key striker Veton Berisha and talented youngster Sebastian Sebulonsen to transfers away from the club. They need to replace them in this August transfer window. Some good news for Viking is that they have had a full week to prepare for this match because they didn’t have a league fixture at the weekend. They should be fully focused, fired up and know they need to take a lead with them to Ireland next week.

Sligo Rovers sensationally got past Motherwell 3-0 on aggregate in the previous round. It was an outcome which cost Motherwell manager Graham Alexander his job and was seen as a catastrophic result for the SPL side. Sligo also beat British opposition in the first round by knocking out Bala Town on penalties. There is a suggestion that they have caught a couple of teams cold who had been coming off a pre-season summer. This will be more of a difficult challenge away in Norway vs a team right in the middle of its domestic campaign. Sligo Rovers qualified for this competition by finishing third last season in the Irish Premier League. They are currently residing in a comfortable mid table spot in 5th position. It is highly likely their aim will be to knuckle down and be defensive in this first leg. If they could take a draw or even a close loss with them back to Ireland it would be a decent result.

This will not be easy for Viking, but they really should be able to win the first leg at home vs a midtable Irish Premier Division side. There will be a strong home support inside the stadium and ultimately, they should have too much quality and class for their opponents. This could be a low scoring sort of match and potentially tight. The 1-0 and 2-0 scoreline is very much in play and Viking will be mindful of making sure they have a lead after this match. The best bet is to take Viking straight on the nose to win at 1.40. This looks a bigger price than it should be facing a team who on paper are ultimately quite inferior.

Prediction: Viking to Win, 1.40 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


FK Neftci Baku v SK Rapid Wien (Conference League)

Thursday 4th August – 6:00PM KO

Neftci are yet to get their domestic season started, but they’ve already overcome one round of European qualification to set up this tie against Rapid. The side from Azerbaijan were up against it as they trailed 2-0 against Aris Limassol, but escaped with a 3-0 home win to sneak into Round 3. Rapid got through in the opposite manner, drawing a blank at home against Lechia Gdansk, before securing a hard-fought 2-1 away win in Poland.

Rapid will be buoyed by the manner of their win on the road against Lechia, but they really should have given themselves an advantage in the home leg. With goals at a premium for the Viennese team so far this season, they’re not likely to merely defend and try to get the job done in the second leg, they’ll take a goal from anywhere. Big striker Ferdy Druijf is likely to miss out with an injury, and young midfield star Yusuf Demir has returned to training but it would be a surprise to see him feature in a big way in the first leg, yet coach Ferdinand Feldhofer worked swiftly in the summer window to bring in ample replacements, so there are still goal threats all over the attacking third with the likes of Kühn, Bajic and Grüll. Talented defender Emanuel Aiwu will be a big loss for Rapid as he looks to complete a move to Serie A, and although there are plenty of replacements there too, most are inexperienced at this level.

There was a feeling of inevitability about Neftci’s turnaround in the last game as they surged back to win, but Aris had several chances to put the game to bed in Baku as they piled pressure on keeper Ivan Brkic, so there is an inherent vulnerability to the team which Rapid may be able to exploit. Godsway Donyoh in particular looked like a real livewire up front for Neftci, and with Rapid reshuffling in defence, the home team should get on the scoresheet to keep their fans happy. Rapid will be the favourites overall though, and with chance creation less of an issue than actual finishing, we can certainly see the likes of Berni Zimmermann or Guido Burgstaller finding the Neftci net in this game.

Prediction: Both Teams to Score, 1.80 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


Sepsi v Djurgården (Conference League)

Thursday 4th August – 7:00PM KO

Two teams from leagues close in the UEFA coefficient rankings – the Swedish Allsvenskan is 23rd while the Romanian league ranks 25th – at different stages of their campaign face off here.

Sepsi come into this qualifier having just started their domestic season, after a year in which they struggled and ultimately finished 7th. They did however finish strong and surprisingly beat Voluntari in the final of the Romanian cup, hence earning their spot in this UECL qualification. With the club only being formed in 2011 this is their second European adventure, and it’s certainly a club on an upward trajectory, having strengthened the squad in most areas in the off-season with quite a few arrivals from league rivals.

Pre-season has produced some impressive results, winning against the likes of Legia Warsaw, Ferencvaros and CFR Cluj, the latter in the Super Cup. We all know how little pre-season results matter once the season gets underway, though, and they’ve only managed to win one of three league games to date. Managed to knock out Slovenian champions NK Olimpija on penalties in the previous round, winning 3-1 at home before suffering a 2-0 defeat in the second leg.

The away side is flying sky high, as evidenced by their stellar league form (seven consecutive victories) and convincingly knocking out Rijeka by a 4-1 aggregate scoreline to get here. A team that’s struggled in years past in European qualifiers looked dominant against a strong Rijeka side consistently challenging at the top of the Croatian league.

There is a real feel-good factor around the club with a strong belief they can win the league, and every area of the team looks incredibly impressive. Isak Hien has grown to a colossus in defence, partnering the slick Hjalmar Ekdal – it’s just a matter of time before both get a move abroad. The return of prior club captain Marcus Danielson adds further cover at the back, while offensively there is a real collective effort to create and score.

With a clean bill of health, expect the away side to go for a win in this first leg. Despite Sepsi’s strong home form, the difference in quality between the squads means Djurgården should be able to get a result here.

Prediction: Djurgården Draw no Bet, 1.60 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


Maribor v HJK (Europa League)

Thursday 4th August – 7:15PM KO

After being destroyed in the Champions League by Viktoria Plzen last week, HJK must regroup if they’re to have any chance of progressing in the second competition. After a decent performance at home (still losing 1-2), the trip to Czechia was an embarrassing 5-0 and could have been a lot more. The prize of remaining in Europe still means they have two more cracks at a coveted group stage place. But the damage to the ego in losing so heavily is still ringing loud.

HJK had a home match in the league on Saturday, but a fairly strong starting XI struggled to beat the struggling IFK Mariehamn with only a goal from Casper Terho securing the three points. They allowed the visitors plenty of half-chances which would encourage the watching Maribor scouts, while the lengthy injury list is unlikely to ease, latest signing Paulus Arajuuri was injured against Plzen and is a doubt for this fixture. Since scoring on his debut, loanee Malik Abubakari has played nearly five hours of football without a goal since and looked lost and isolated at the weekend.

Their away record in Europe has been poor in recent years, only winning in Montenegro and Armenia last season, losing both away ties this year so far. A positive start is required this time in Slovenia, not conceding naïve penalties and having the confidence to push on the front foot. Bojan Radulovic has done well as a target man but he hasn’t been getting the service. HJK have been linked with Dutch midfielder Pelle Clement, with any creativity and assists gratefully received.

Prediction: Maribor to Win, 2.30 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

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Brondby v FC Basel (Conference League)

Thursday 4th August – 7:30PM KO

FC Basel advanced to QR3 of the UEFA Europa Conference League with relative ease against Crusaders of Northern Ireland. A 3-1 aggregate scoreline was enough in the end, winning 2-0 at home before a 1-1 draw in the capital. The second leg performance was far from convincing though and the tie could’ve become really rather tricky indeed if not for a piece of brilliance from Liam Millar in the first half. The general consensus after that game was that FCB will need to improve if they wish to progress further.

Danish side Brondby lie in wait and will provide a stern test. The 11-time Danish champions were UEFA Europa League participants last season and thrashed Polish outfit Pogon Sczcecin 4-0 at Brondby Stadium to set up this match with Basel.

FCB have had a mixed start to their campaign. They have played some excellent football, most notably in their late draw with Servette, but are yet to win domestically. There are signs that Alex Frei’s side will click into gear, but I think this game in Denmark represents too much of an ask.

Brondby don’t lose often at home, especially in European competition. Lyon, RB Salzburg and Braga have won there recently, but they’ve lost only five of their last twenty-seven at Brondby Stadion in Europe. I can’t see FCB having enough to win here so I would back Brondby double chance.

Prediction: Brondby Double Chance, 1.40 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


Linfield v FC Zurich (Europa League)

Thursday 4th August – 7:45PM KO

FC Zurich barely had time to take off their coats in their first UEFA Champions League qualifying campaign in 12 years before they were unceremoniously dumped out by Qarabag last week. The two legs against the Azerbaijani champions, a seasoned European side themselves, represented a difficult challenge for FCZ. After a 3-2 defeat in Baku, they took an early lead on home soil before eventually losing out in extra-time. The performance and lack of threat in front of goal added to the disappointment of dropping into the UEFA Europa League.

In more encouraging news for FCZ, they are paired with Northern Irish champions Linfield in QR3. This opponent, on paper at least, should represent a more straightforward route to the next round than Qarabag did and that confidence would’ve only increased with the 8-0 drubbing administered to ‘The Blues’ by Bodo/Glint in the Artic Circle in their own UCL qualifier.

FCZ do need the pick-me-up that this tie might provide after their lukewarm start to the season continued with a 2-0 defeat at St. Gallen at the weekend. Five games, three defeats and only four goals scored is probably not how ‘der Stadtclub’ envisioned the beginning of their title defence would go.

While I expect FC Zurich to advance over two legs, a trip to Belfast will be tricky, especially on current form. Bodo/Glimt were beaten at Windsor Park in the first leg and FC Basel struggled away to Linfield’s fellow Northern Irish side Crusaders too.

Linfield have kept the score low at home against teams like Celtic and Rosenborg in recent years and I expect the same to happen here, especially given FCZ’s toothlessness in front of goal lately. Also, only three of Linfield’s last 16 European home ties have had more than three goals.

Prediction: Under 3.5 Goals, 1.40 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


Hadjuk Split v Vitoria Guimaraes (Conference League)

Thursday 4th August – 8:00PM KO

Nine days prior to the first leg of their tie against Hungarian side Puskás Akadémia, Pepa left his position as Vitória manager and was replaced by João Miguel da Cunha Teixeira, or Moreno. itória thrashed Puskás Akadémia 3-0 before drawing 0-0 in Hungary. Their next test comes in Croatia against Hadjuk Split.

Hadjuk finished second to Dinamo Zagreb last season – their highest finish in a decade – and defeated Rijeka 3-1 in the Croatian Cup Final. Since that victory on May 26, Hadjuk Split have lost 2-0 to CFR Cluj, drawn 2-2 to Hamburger SV, lost 3-0 to Gent, drawn 1-1 to Kisvárda, and lost on penalties to Dinamo Zagreb in the Croatian SuperCup after drawing 0-0 in regular time. They began their league campaign with a 2-0 win over NK Istra 1961, thrashed second-tier NK Solin 6-2 in a friendly, before beating NK Varaždin 2-0 in their second league match. One of the biggest reasons behind Hadjuk’s impressive start to the league has been 28-year-old forward Marko Livaja, and he’s also one of the reasons why I’m backing this one to be a high-scoring affair.

Speaking to a Croatian football expert, “Hajduk are heavily dependent on Livaja to score goals so if he’s having an off day they often struggle offensively. The talented left winger Stipe Biuk had an underwhelming campaign after breaking out towards end of the 2020-21 season. Emir Sahiti will most likely start on the other wing. The two wingers are key for creating chances in the final third along with Krovinovic. Biuk has shown flashes of brilliance but must be more consistent to be a top player. As Slaven Bilic said “The Hajduk shirt is very heavy”. Hajduk fans are extremely demanding and the pressure that comes along with wearing the white shirt is immense. Knocking out Vitória would be a big push towards qualifying for Europe and would be a key to showcase their young talents on the European stage.”

Vitória have not played a Croatian side since the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League group stage, where they would beat Rijeka 4-0 and draw 0-0 in Croatia, but it wasn’t enough as both sides crashed out of the group stage behind Lyon and Real Betis. Since then, Vitória have lost to Austrian side SCR Altach in the third round of the 2015/16 UEFA Europa League qualifiers, before directly qualifying for the 2017/18 Europa League group stage and finishing behind Red Bull Salzburg, Marseille and Konyaspor with five points. Two years later, they would edge FCSB in the qualifiers before finishing behind Arsenal, Eintracht Frankfurt and Standard Liège in their Europa group.

Vitória have endured a tumultuous summer that has seen Borevković and other defenders like Rafa Soares and Falaye Sacko head out the door, as well as Colombian striker and top scorer Óscar Estupiñán and winger Rochinha, but the arrivals of André Silva, Jota Silva and Anderson Silva could very well see their attack improve under Moreno. Anderson opened his account after coming off the bench against Puskás, whilst Jota recorded a brace of assists in the first leg. André, who scored 9 goals and 3 assists to steer Arouca clear of relegation in their return to the top-flight last season, got an assist as well against the Hungarian outfit.

Whilst Hadjuk have begun the season with two clean sheets in the league, they have suffered defensively against teams with more attacking firepower, losing 3-1 to Dinamo Zagreb in May and losing 3-1 to Rijeka in February. I’m not convinced that their backline will be able to cope with the unique attacking threats of Jota, Anderson, André as well as other stars like Nélson da Luz and Ruben Lameiras. Likewise, I think Vitória’s defense will have a tough time keeping Livaja under wraps. I’m expecting over 2.5 goals in what should be a dazzling shootout in Croatia.

Prediction: Over 2.5 Goals, 2.15 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


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