Ufa vs Progres Niederkorn – Thursday, August 9, 15:00 BST/ 16:00 CEST/ 17:00 MSK – Stadion Neftyanik, Ufa
Ufa’s dramatic last-gasp goal in Slovenia to knock out FK Domzale in the last round sent the Russian side further into unknown territory. They had to rely on Bojan Jokić’s cool long-range finish with just five minutes left to make it through after the full-back’s countrymen had taken the lead early in the second half with a close-range tap-in. In truth, Ufa were just about deserving of the aggregate win having dominated the home leg.
A strong start to the domestic season has boosted confidence further. Holding champions Lokomotiv Moscow to a goalless draw – that should have been a win were it not for Sylvester Igboun’s missed penalty – was backed up with a ruthless demolition of struggling Anzhi thanks in part to another clean sheet. Even though the early season schedule is punishing to a side that is inexperienced at juggling three campaigns at once, some respite has been achieved by taking advantage of the relaxed foreigner ruling in the Europa League itself.
Igboun himself is closing in on becoming Ufa’s all-time top goalscorer. The Nigerian, who extended his contract by two years this summer, bagged a goal and assisted another at the weekend to continue his run of form. Arguably, Progrès are a far weaker proposition than NK Domzale, so the critical aggression in taking control of the game is less than it was a fortnight ago. With a potential big-name tie against Rangers awaiting in the final playoff round, however, it is unlikely the collective foot will be taken off the pedal.
Speaking of Rangers, arguably Progrès Niederkorn’s biggest result in their history came against the Scottish giants last summer. Against all the odds, Progrès overturned a 1-0 loss in the first leg to knock out the Glaswegians 2-1 on aggregate to reach the furthest stage in their existence. Before the victorious second leg, they had only ever scored once in their 100-year history and had never progressed beyond the first round of any continental campaign.
Their history is long, but in recent years has been relatively fallow, even within the context of Luxembourg football. Regular incursions into Europe in the 1970s and 1980s soon dropped off after the league title win in 1981; that was the last silverware they picked up. In fact, they were even as low as the relegation playoff five seasons ago, having only gained promotion back to the top flight in 2006. Having already knocked out Qabala with their first ever European away win and the legendary Hungarian club Honved this season, there is tentative optimism.
Emmanuel Françoise scored the first goal of that tie against Rangers last July and remains a talisman for the Luxembourgers. Domestically, it has been far from plain sailing this season though. Two weeks ago, Progres announced they wouldn’t be taking part in league football in protest at the transfer dealings of other clubs, and although they ended up committing to league obligations, they lost their opening fixture. European exposure for both sides is something new, and both would be breaking new ground by advancing beyond this round.
Ufa vs Progres Niederkorn – Players to Watch
Ivan Paurević #19 – Ufa
The giant Croatian defensive midfielder had a failed spell in England with Huddersfield Town but returned straight back to where he belongs. His physical frame is imposing in his role, and he also offers a lot more than just brute strength. His passing is decent enough to involve the more talented ball players. His height is a major threat at set pieces, which his goals tally of five from last season attests to; only top goalscorer Sylvester Igboun managed more.
Emmanuel Francoise #14 – Progrès Niederkorn
The Frenchman is the dangerman for the Luxembourg outfit for obvious reasons. His raw pace is lethal from out on the left wing, especially when combined with his strength. A relatively low centre of gravity makes him extremely hard to knock off the ball even when he is not in full flow. In tight spaces, he is confident enough to take players on directly, and while Ufa play with a packed defensive block, they will need to be wary of Francoise if they want to keep a clean sheet heading into the second leg.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Ufa vs Progrès Niederkorn – 2-0
Ufa vs Progres Niederkorn – Match Stats
- Ufa are unbeaten this season, but they’ve only managed one win
- Ufa have lost competitively at home just once all season
- They have kept a clean sheet in their last five home games in all competitions
- Progrès Niederkorn are already further into European competition than they have ever been before
- Progrès have lost three of their last four competitive matches
- Of their 10 total European away fixtures, they have lost nine, and racked up a collective goal difference of 3 scored and 32 conceded
Ufa vs Progres Niederkorn – Possible Lineups
Belenov – Zhivoglyadov, Tumasyan, Tabidze, Nedelcearu, Jokic – Paurevic, Salatic, Oblyakov – Igboun, Fatai
Manager: Sergey Tomarov
Flauss – Martins, Hall, Ferino, Gobron – Oliver Thill, Sebastian Thill, Mutsch – Françoise, De Almeida, Karapetian
Manager: Paolo Amodio
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football, and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.