DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Bryan Gerzicich and Kiryat Shmona will look to bounce back at home against Zilina while Molde should have no problem protecting their aggregate lead over Ventspils despite Josh Gatt's likely absence.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona - MSK Zilina (agg. 0-1)
After being held to a 1-0 defeat in their first leg at the home of Slovakian champions MSK Zilina, Bryan Gerzicich and Ironi Kiryat Shmona will need a strong performance in Tuesday's return leg to reach the third round of qualifying.
A late goal from Zilina defender gave his team the narrow win in last week's first leg, despite a largely strong defensive performance by Gerzicich and the Israeli champions.
Now with the home crowd behind them in full force, they will hope to overturn the deficit when they play host in the all-important second leg.
Due to Shmona's home field of Municipal Stadium not meeing UEFA requirements, the game will be held 60 miles southwest in Haifa at the Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, home of league rivals Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Haifa.
Nevertheless, the team's effort's to bus fans to nearby Haifa to lend their support will guarantee a raucous atmosphere, and the 90-plus degree temperatures expected for the late afternoon kickoff will give the Israeli champions a definite advantage over their European opponents.
Their lack of an away goal in the first leg puts them in a precarious position, where they will not only need an outright win, but will also need to either hold their visitors scoreless or win by a two-goal margin.
Should they come out winners of this round, Shmona will likely square off against Azerbaijan champions Neftchi Baku, who currently hold a 3-0 lead over Georgian team Zestafoni heading into their second leg.
Shmona are not reporting any absences, while Zilina will be without keeper Martin Krnáč, defender Marcel Ondráš, midfielder Babatounde Bello and forward Ján Novák all due to injury.
Josh Gatt is recovering from a thigh pull suffered during weekend league play, and will likely be unavailable on Tuesday when Molde head to Latvia to face FK Ventspils. Molde hold a 3-0 lead from the first leg, and need only to avoid an utter collapse to reach the third round of qualifying, where they will likely face FC Basel.
Danijal Brković could be an option off the bench for Željezničar on Tuesday when they host NK Maribor in the second leg of their qualifying series. The Slovenians hold a 4-1 lead from the first leg, putting Željezničar in the position of needing a miracle to keep their European campaign alive.