EUROPE: Europa League – Qualification
Time: 5:00 PM
Venue: Bolt Arena (Helsinki)
HJK Helsinki and Neftchi Baku head into the second leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie locked at 2-2 on aggregate. Whoever prevails from this encounter will set up a clash with Turkish giants Fenerbahce in the playoff round.
You have to go back to the 2014-15 campaign for the last time that HJK Helsinki qualified for the main stages of a European competition, producing a respectable effort in the Europa League as they finished third in their group.
Meanwhile, Neftchi Baku’s most notable achievement over the past decade is reaching the same stage during 2012-13, claiming three points from fixtures against Inter Milan, Rubin Kazan and Partizan Belgrade.
However, with the creation of the UEFA Conference League, these two teams effectively have two shots at extending their European season through to Christmas. This tie is finely poised at the halfway point after Neftchi Baku found an equaliser 10 minutes from time in the reverse clash in Azerbaijan.
HJK had required just six second-half minutes to overturn an earlier deficit, but Emin Mahmudov scored a potentially important goal shortly before the full-time whistle. Upon reflection, both teams will be relatively content with the outcome of the first leg, particularly HJK who have been playing regularly for a number of months.
On the flip side, Neftchi have been limited to games on the continent with Thursday’s match representing just their sixth outing after double-headers with Dinamo Tbilisi and Olympiacos.
The positives could be taken from pushing the latter of those opponents over two legs, likewise with HJK who tested a Malmo outfit which defeated Rangers last week. While Fenerbahce await the winners of this contest, whoever fails to progress will face a Conference League tie with either Mura or Zalgiris.
·HJK’s form in last 5 matches: WDDDW.
·Neftci Baku’s form in last 5 matches: DLLWW