It required nearly 180 minutes and more than 20 shot attempts, but Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol finally broke the Maribor resistance in the last round and took another step towards a second consecutive UEFA Champions League (UCL) group stage berth, after their maiden appearance last season which saw them secure a famous win at the Bernabéu. It also marked back-to-back wins at their temporary ‘home’ in the national capital Chișinău, where the team has relocated from Tiraspol on Ukraine’s south-western border.
Just like their first qualifying round victory over Zrinjski, Sheriff saw off Maribor with a solitary goal over the two legs in the home match to record their fifth consecutive clean sheet across all competitions since capping off 2021/22 with their 11th Moldovan Cup title. Despite a draw to open the Moldovan league season at the weekend, Sheriff can be rightfully confident of a first-leg victory here after six consecutive UCL qualifying round victories on Moldovan soil.
After losing both away legs of their two most recent UEFA Europa Conference League qualifiers last season, Viktoria Plzeň’s 2-1 win at HJK Helsinki in the previous round will no doubt be a boost ahead of their first competitive trip to Moldova. As visiting boss Michal Bílek seeks his first group stage appearance at the UCL as a manager, and the first for his club since 2018/19, Bílek is not getting ahead of himself describing this upcoming contest as “an extremely difficult match”.
Bílek mentioned that his squad appeared unsettled prior to opening the scoring in their impressive 5-0 home defeat of HJK, but his side continue to do themselves favours by securing early advantages. Having now won the last ten competitive games which they led at half-time, another positive start could see the Czech side take another step forward.
Players to watch: Sheriff have now won eight of the nine competitive matches (D1) in which Momo Yansane has scored for his current club. Plzeň striker Tomáš Chorý is working up some strong form for the new season, and his recent match opener against HJK means he’s unbeaten in his previous 22 competitive goalscoring games for the club (W20, D2).
Hot stat: Referee Danny Makkelie has awarded just one penalty kick across his last 14 UEFA club matches.
Best Pick: Penalty Awarded – No @ 1.36