DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Brzan Gerzicich and Ironi Kiryat Shmona will look to take a first-leg lead on their Azerbaijani visitors while Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht should be favorites when they host Lithuanians Ekranas.
RSC Anderlecht - FK Ekranas
Sacha Kljestan will hope to be in Anderlecht's lineup on Wednesday evening when they begin their Champions League campaign with a visit from Lithuanian minnows FK Ekranas.
Anderlecht's season began on somewhat of a whimper after they could only manage a 1-1 draw on the road against ten-man KV Kortrijk in their opener over the weekend.
They were perhaps a bit unlucky as they did waste a penalty chance early in the second half, but they will certainly come out of the tunnel on full throttle to avoid any embarrassment against their visitors on Wednesday.
Kljestan was an unused substitute for the game, however with a busy schedule awaiting the team over the next two weeks and likely beyond due to the extra European games, he will likely be called upon either from the start or as a bench option.
Ekranas squeaked by Irish team Shamrock Rovers in the second round to set up the face-off against the Belgian champions, although history is not on their side heading into the game.
In addition to never successfully passing the third round of Champions League qualification, their one other competitive match-up against Belgian opposition ended in a 7-0 aggregate loss over two legs to Lierse more than 10 years ago.
The only advantage one might throw into their corner is the fact that they are midway through their domestic season, currently leading their league, and have not lost a game since early-March.
Neither team is reporting any absences to their available list of players.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona - Neftchi Baku
Bryan Gerzicich and Ironi Kiryat Shmona will look to continue their European run on Wednesday when they host Azerbaijani champions Neftchi Baku.
As was the case for Shmona's second leg against Zilina, they will play in their temporary home of Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in nearby Haifa due to UEFA regulations.
This seemed to have little effect one week ago in their 2-0 win over the Slovakian team, and this time they can go into the game as clear favorites to take a first-leg lead.
Baku are enjoying their deepest-ever foray into any major European competition. They have been regular participants in both the now-defunct UEFA Cup as well as the Champions League, but have rarely ever made it out of even the first round of qualification.
While more experienced on the continental stage than their Israeli counterparts, the chances of them making an unprecedented appearance in the playoff-round are slim to none.
Neither team is reporting any absences, and Shmona will be further boosted by the successful signing of former Hungarian youth striker Laszlo Lencse on loan for the season.
Josh Gatt has missed the last two games for Molde, and is questionable to suit up on Wednesday when they host Swiss champions Basel in the home leg of their two-game qualifying round.