Dundalk know a win or a score draw at the Skonto Stadium against Riga FC on Wednesday (kick-off 5.30pm Irish time) will be enough to put them into the Champions League second qualifying round.
The first leg at Oriel Park last week, a 0-0 draw, saw both teams cancel each other out and Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth is anticipating a similar approach from the Latvian outfit in the return leg.
“I think it’s going to be a very similar game,” he said at Tuesday’s pre-match press conference.
“I don’t think they’re going to be much different; they will be a little bit more expansive. In all their league games, they tend to play with two big number sixes and someone ahead of them so they play a 4-2-3-1 system.
“Their wingers were very narrow in Oriel Park, I’m not sure they can be as narrow in this sort of pitch so we’d like to think the venue might suit us a bit more than Oriel Park.
“We’ve given the players a huge amount of information over the week in the build-up. They get to see it for themselves first hand in terms of how quick people are.”
Dane Massey – who is the club’s record appearance holder in European competition – is more than confident that the Lilywhites will get a result in Riga, as he told the travelling Irish media on Tuesday.
“We’ve been through a lot of European games now, this core group of players,” said Massey.
“We’re really looking forward to tomorrow but to be fair, I think we’ve played our best football in Europe away from home. We’ve got some fantastic results and the tie is up for grabs tomorrow night so we’re confident.
“Our past experiences of playing away, we’ve always played really well so we’re confident in our ability and the group of players that we have here are probably the strongest group we’ve ever had.”
The most notable omission from Riga’s 22-man squad to face Dundalk is the injured Arturs Karasausks, while Antons Kurakins, Minori Sato, Kevin Berigaud and Ivans Lukjanovs also miss out.
Serbia international defender Stefan Panic returns from the one-match suspension he served in the first leg while Brazilian midfielder Felipe Brisola – who missed that match through injury – played for over an hour and scored in the 6-0 win over SK Super Nova in the Latvian Cup on Sunday evening.
Dundalk’s only notable omissions from their squad handed to UEFA on July 4th are the injured Jordan Flores and Stephen Folan, who looks set to depart the club in the summer transfer window.
Chris Shields should take his place in the starting XI despite being forced off in the first leg due to a cheekbone injury. However, winger Michael Duffy is in a race against time to play in Riga having returned home from the party at Dublin Airport on Monday due to the imminent birth of his child.
However, the Dundalk head coach “expects” that his star man will at least take his place in the matchday squad, even if he does fly into Riga International Airport as late as Wednesday morning.
“We trained on Saturday and Sunday and Michael was in and out of that session for different reasons so we have prepared with people in that position but that’s something we quite often do.
“We wouldn’t necessarily pick the team very early in a week. The way we tend to train, there’s different people dropped into different positions. No matter what happens, I think whoever plays tomorrow is ready. We have prepared for Michael; we’ve prepared with him and without him.
“I understand it’s big news for everybody else. With us, we’re very calm about it and we expect him to be part of the matchday squad tomorrow, so we don’t see any real big story other than that.
Referee: Dimitar Meckarovski (Macedonia).
This will be Dundalk’s 70th match in Europe since taking part for the first time against FC Zurich in a European Cup tie back in 1963. It’s interesting to note that 26 of those have come since 2014/15.
With the exception of the AEK Arena in Cyprus last year, Dundalk have scored in every single European venue they’ve visited since 2014. The Lilywhites have found the net in ten away matches.
Only twice before has a League of Ireland team successfully negotiated a tie against Latvian opposition. St Patrick’s Athletic beat JFK Olimps in 2008 before Derry City beat Skonto Riga in 2009.
Riga FC 5/4; Draw 2/1; Dundalk 21/10.
Riga FC 1-1 Dundalk
Injured: Arturs Karasausks, Antons Kurakins, Minori Sato, Kevin Berigaud, Ivans Lukjanovs.
Injured: Jordan Flores, Stephen Folan.
Doubtful: Michael Duffy.