On Wednesday evening in the Champions League Qualifying round we have a game between Slovenian team Maribor and Icelandic team FH Hafnarfjodour. Although Slovenian team Maribor are the ones with the most European experience, they were the ones who looked in trouble during round two of qualifying and need to come here in better shape.
FH are one of the lowest ranked teams left at this stage and Maribor will want to take advantage of that as they look to secure themselves a lucrative Champions League spot. The Champions League is big business for small clubs like this and if either of them can make it through and get a good draw, they will reap the financial rewards and bring in cash that will help the club out for a very long time. It may only be a qualification game, but the stakes in this one are huge.
Only a late 90th minute penalty rescued a victory for Maribor in round two leg one against lowly ranked Bosnian opposition and they are going to have to be much better in this one. They drew the second leg to qualify, but they were far from impressive. However, they do go into the game as favourites, the draw has been very kind to them, giving them one of the lowest ranked teams at this stage in FH.
Domestically, the picture looks a little better for Maribor as they have won their opening two games against Aluminij and Triglav. They looked a different team in those games, and they need to bring those performances forward with them, not the ones we saw against Zrinjski during the second round of qualifying.
FH didn’t make things easy for themselves either, but they eventually won 3-1 on aggregate against Vikingur from the Faroe Islands. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg at home, they went to the Faroe Islands and won the return leg 2-0 to set up this tie.
Seeing how Maribor performed in the previous round will give them hope they can spring a surprise in this one, although it will be tough. They can give themselves hope by keeping the first leg tight when they travel to Slovenia.
FH should have a slight fitness edge over Maribor as they are well into their season. After twelve games played, they find themselves in fourth place and will still be hoping they can clinch a European berth for next season through their league performances.
Both teams have enough games under their belt to know what their best eleven is going into this one and I don’t expect to see too many changes made by either team.
Maribor have two solid attacking options in Luka Zahovic and Tavares, both who scored in leg one of their second round victory. Whichever plays will cause FH problems, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see Zahovic start, and Tavares come off the bench when the Icelandic players are getting tired.
FH are well into their season so their line-up is set and I expect them to field a similar team to the one that played in qualifying round two. Steven Lennon, one of their goal scorers from that round can be very dangerous, and can play either in attack or midfield. I expect to see him drop into midfield as FH are away from home, but if he can counter attack with the ball he is very dangerous.
Top Betting Tips
Many people think Maribor will win this one comfortably, and while they have the quality in their team to do so, I don’t believe they will. I think they will win this game by the odd goal, which would set up the second leg brilliantly for the neutral fans.
Maribor were very poor in the previous round and had a real scare from much lower opposition. They need to have learnt from that, and make sure the same mistakes are not made in this game. However, I am sure FH have enough about them to test Maribor, especially as they are well into their season so fitness won’t be an issue for them. They will be hoping to keep things tight, so I am not expecting too much attacking from them.
I am backing Maribor to win, but only by the odd goal in what should be a very tactical and tight encounter in Slovenia on Wednesday. If that prediction is correct, or the teams head back to Iceland tied then we should be in for a great second leg between these two.