DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Bryan Gerzicich and Kiryat Shmona will likely have no problems protecting their four-goal lead in Azerbaijan while Sacha Kljestan will hope a huge lead over Baku will earn him the second-leg start.
FK Ekranas - RSC Anderlecht (agg. 0-5)
With the team in the midst of a breakneck schedule and holding a five-goal aggregate lead, Sacha Kljestan could be in line for his first start of the season when Anderlecht visit Lithuanian team FK Ekranas on Wednesday evening.
Anderlecht gave themselves a wealth of breathing room last week by running away with a 5-0 win in the home leg of their third-round qualifier.
With the team so far looking less than convincing in their first two league outings and tasked with a tough visit to Cercle Brugge on Sunday, head coach John van den Brom will have the inviting option of putting out a mostly reserve team to allow his starters to get some much-needed rest.
Star striker Dieumerci Mbokani, scorer of two goals in the first leg, was sent home from Lithuania with illness in hopes that he would be able to fully recover by the weekend. In addition, Milan Jovanovič and Marcin Wasilewski were also both left out of the traveling squad.
All three of these players put in long shifts in their thoroughly unconvincing 1-0 win over Beerschot on Wednesday, and the hope is that a few extra days rest and recovery will help the team gain some momentum as they try to defend last season's league title.
Outside of tactical omissions from the lineup, Anderlecht are also missing a trio of injured players. Reynaldo Dos Santos is still recovering from a knee injury, Roland Juhasz is still regaining his fitness in reserve matches, and Ronald Vargas is not yet ready for full game action.
Ekranas are not currently reporting any absences from their squad.
Neftchi Baku - Ironi Kiryat Shmona (agg. 0-4)
Bryan Gerzicich and Ironi Kiryat Shmona are in fine shape to reach the Champions League playoff round, needing only to hold onto a nearly insurmountable four-goal advantage on their trip to Azerbaijan champions Neftchi Baku.
Gerzicich scored a pair of goals in their explosive first-leg victory, and put them in perfect position to continue a remarkable run that began with last season's unexpectedly dominant league campaign.
With both teams having yet to start their domestic seasons, each will be well-rested for the encounter, but nothing short of a miracle will be enough to give the hosts even the slightest chance to reach the next round.
Baku's collapse in the first leg caused a bit of a shake-up to their roster, with the team's upper brass deciding to release former captain and defender Rail Melikov, Macedonian international defender Igor Mitreski and veteran keeper Rauf Mehdiyev during the week.
Shmona look to have a full squad available for the game.
Josh Gatt is still hobbled by a hamstring injury and is doubtful to take the field for Molde on Wednesday on their trip to Basel. The Norwegian champions trail 1-0 from the first leg, and need to manage a tricky road win in order to have any hope of advancing to the playoff round.