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Europa League | First Qualifying Round | 1st Leg
Jul 11, 2024 at 7pm UK
Nikola Shterev-Starika Complex

Botev Plovdiv
2 - 1

Ujah (9'), Iliyanov Iliev (74')
Nachukwu (43'), Balogiannis (55'), Minkov (78')
FT(HT: 1-1)
Sirvys (19')
Karic (30'), Repas (30'), Repas (59')

Preview: Botev Plovdiv vs. Maribor - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Botev Plovdiv and Maribor, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Botev Plovdiv will welcome Maribor to the Hristo Botev Stadium on Thursday for the first leg of their first-round tie in Europa League qualifying.

The hosts' last continental action came in Europa Conference League qualifying in the 2022-23 campaign, while their visitors progressed to the third round of qualifying for Europe's third competition last year and will now bid to succeed for the first time since featuring in the Champions League group stage in 2017.

Match preview

Botev Plovdiv will return to continental qualification on Thursday having missed out last year after turning out for the first time in five seasons in the 2022-23 term, with their sights set on the Europa Conference League group stage on that occasion.

The Bulgarian outfit were unsuccessful in that bid, entering in the second round and suffering a quick exit at the hands of APOEL, before finishing a disappointing campaign in 10th spot in the domestic top flight.

Under the tutelage of Dusan Kerkez, they set out to bounce back and improve last time around, and while they did only manage a ninth-placed finish at the end of the league term, ending with four consecutive losses in the Conference League playoff group, they were able to seal a return to European competition by winning a first piece of silverware since 2017 in the Bulgarian Cup.

The Canaries progressed through the early rounds with victories over Strumska Slava Radomir, Etar Veliko Tarnovo and Spartak Varna, and after seeing off CSKA Sofia in a two-legged tie, they met giants Ludogorets Razgrad in the final in May and defied the odds to win the trophy for the fourth time, picking up a 3-2 victory at the Vasil Levski National Stadium thanks to goals from Antoine Conte, Martin Sekulic and Umeh Emmanuel.

Thanks to that triumph, Botev Plovdiv will now begin their 2024-25 season in the first round of Europa League qualifying and will set out to make the most of home advantage in Thursday's first leg of their first-round tie to begin a run towards the league phase of Europe's secondary competition.

In their way stand a Maribor team who will bid to progress through continental qualifying for the first time since the 2017-18 Champions League campaign, in which they advanced to the group stage before bowing out in fourth spot with three points from their six outings.

From their six attempts since, the Slovenian outfit have failed to reach another group, most recently falling short in Europa Conference League qualifying last year after a disappointing third-placed finish in their domestic top flight denied an entry into a bid for Europe's top competition.

The Purples did progress through two rounds with aggregate wins over Birkirkara and FC Differdange 03, only to be denied a playoff place in a 6-1 beating at the hands of Turkish giants Fenerbahce over two legs.

Ante Simundza's side did go on to enjoy a relatively pleasing campaign, though, despite falling short of a 17th Slovakian top-flight title, as they finished second when the campaign culminated in mid-May with 67 points on the board from their 36 outings.

That league finish wrapped up a return to Europa League qualifying for Maribor, and following an encouraging pre-season run, they will set out to enjoy a longer European bid this term with the chance to gain an edge in their first-round tie on their travels on Thursday.

Team News

Martin Sekulic should continue to lead the Botev Plovdiv attack heading into the new season and their first-round qualifying tie, having netted a team-high tally of 11 goals last season.

James Eto'o and Antonio Pereira should remain key men in the midfield after being mainstays in the 2023-24 campaign, while they have added to their ranks in the engine room with the capture of Nikola Iliev from Inter Milan, and he will hope to earn a debut for the club on Thursday.

Anthony Ujah will also hope to make a first start in attack after his own summer arrival, with exciting teenager Umeh Emmanuel having departed for FC Zurich after hitting 10 goals last season, while goalkeeper Stefan Smarkalev has also left leaving new signing Hans Christian Bernat as first-choice between the sticks.

After missing their pre-season preparations while away on international duty with Slovenia at Euro 2024, Josip Ilicic is in contention to feature for Maribor on Thursday, and the veteran should get the nod from the start after notching up eight goals and 11 assists in the Prva Liga last time around.

Arnel Jakupovic will continue to spearhead their attack heading into the new season with support from Ilicic, having scored a team-high tally of 19 goals last season, while El Arbi Hillel Soudani is another danger man having contributed 15 of his own in the 2023-24 term.

Jan Repas should remain a mainstay in midfield heading into the new campaign, while Lan Vidmar may get the nod alongside key centre-back Sven Karic at the heart of a back four.

Botev Plovdiv possible starting lineup:
Bernat; Ukaki, John, Videv, Balogiannis; Eto'o, Pereira, Iliev; Ujah, Sekulic, Maras

Maribor possible starting lineup:
Jug; Sirvys, Vidmar, Karic, Milec; Vrhovec, Lorber; Soudani, Ilicic, Bozic; Jakupovic

SM words green background

We say: Botev Plovdiv 1-1 Maribor

The visitors arguably boast more quality in their ranks and more experience on the continental stage than their hosts, but with Botev Plovdiv desperate to make the most of home advantage, we would not be surprised to see the teams go into the second leg level.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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