Preview: Ludogorets vs Dinamo Zagreb

The group stages of the UEFA Champions League (UCL) are growing ever closer for one of either Ludogorets or Dinamo Zagreb, who meet in the first leg of the third play-off round. Bulgarian side Ludogorets have reached this stage of the competition on five previous occasions and have progressed four times – only against Hapoel Be’er Sheva in 2017/18 did they crash out.

This clash serves as a ninth competitive game of the campaign for Ante Šimundža’s Ludogorets side already, who have tasted defeat only once (W6, D1), a 2-1 reversal versus Shamrock Rovers in the second play-off round, though a 4-2 aggregate victory did cushion the blow. In fact, Ludogorets sit top of the Bulgarian First League after four games largely due to their lethal nature in front of goal, but with three clean sheets from their four UCL run-outs so far this term, one goal may be enough here.

Dinamo may have something to say about that though after a strong start to the 2022/23 season themselves, beating Hajduk Split on penalties in the Croatian Super Cup, before reeling off three successive league wins. That solid domestic run aligns with impressive European form too, with a 3-2 aggregate victory over North Macedonian outfit Shkupi booking their spot in the UCL third play-off round.

Ante Čačić’s side have a strong history in this competition, winning eight of their last ten ties at this stage, as well as reaching the group stage on seven occasions. Dinamo’s slightly inferior H2H record against Ludogorets may be cause for concern though (W1, D1, L2), albeit their most recent meeting was a 2-1 defeat in the UEFA Europa League back in 2013.

Players to watch: Ludogorets’ Cauly tends to strike late, with four of his last six goals proving to be the final goal of the game. Meanwhile, Dinamo’s new signing Josip Drmić has only been on the losing side in two of the last nine matches in which he has scored (W7).

Hot stat: Ludogorets have only lost four of their 23 home Champions League qualifying matches (W14, D5).

Best Pick: 2nd Half Over 0.5 – @ 1.34