Neftchi Baku vs HJK Helsinki Preview 03/08/2021
Both Neftchi Baku of Azerbaijan and HJK Helsinki of Finland have fallen way off their Champions League aims in recent times and will now battle it out in the Europa League third qualifying round on Tuesday.
Neftchi Baku were beaten by the Greek giants Olympiacos recently, and the same style of form continued for Helsinki, who fell to a narrow aggregate defeat against Malmo which ended their Champions League hopes.
As a result of such results, the two will now battle it out for a spot in the playoff round of the Europa League.
Ever since the 1998/99 season, the Finnish outfit have never managed to advance further than the third stage of the preliminaries for the Champions League.
This campaign, however, they even failed in getting this far, and it couldn’t have been in much more of a brutal way, as they lost to their Nordic neighbours, Malmo.
After falling behind 2-1 in the first leg, HJK Helsinki went ahead within just a few seconds in the second fixture, as Miro Tenho rocketed in his strike to make it 2-2 on aggregate.
Malmo skipper Anders Christiansen would get his second of the clash later on, not long after he scored in the first leg, before Veljko Birmancevic bagged to end all hopes of advancing for the Finns. Roope Riski did score a late consolation goal, however, which only improved his form.
Now, after bagging five Champions League qualifying goals in just four games, Riski is arguably the biggest threat the Finnish side possesses and on Tuesday, he will be looked at as their main man.
As for their Tuesday opponents, Neftchi Baku, they themselves are struggling to conjure up any form and at the same time, boast a significantly weaker pedigree than Helsinki on the European stage.
They are, in fact, the first Azerbaijan team to make the group stage of any UEFA competition, which came back in 2012.
Sadly, they did finish bottom of the group, but they also picked up memorable points against Serbian giants, Partizan Belgrade, and even the Italian heavyweights, Inter Milan, in the Europa League.
Neftchi have not come close to getting back in since and it is tough to see them getting past Helsinki here. The form of Riski looks a little too threatening and with such a lack of experience on this stage, this could be the time they return to the Europa League.
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