As is often the case with the earliest Champions League qualification rounds, neither HB Torshavn of the Faroe Islands, nor Northern Irish side Linfield could ever have genuine hopes of reaching the competition proper, given the resource gap between some of the sides they’d be due to meet on the way. Both sides lost their first-round qualifiers, but the European dream isn’t over – here they face off to get one step closer to the Europa League.
That HJK of Finland were overwhelming favourites to beat HB in the last round is testament to the level they compete at in the Faroe Islands, who as a nation are routinely thrashed in international European fixtures. And so it came to pass, as even playing with 10 men, HJK comfortably ran out 3-0 winners in the home first leg. Remarkably – and briefly – HB looked like managing a remarkable comeback as they led 2-0 at home in the second leg, before conceding two quickfire goals to kill their dream. Still, that brief kindling of excitement shows there’s something to HB. They’re also currently fifth in the Faroe Islands league table, halfway through their domestic league schedule, with 30 points from 15 games.
Linfield were mismatched against Norwegian giants Rosenborg in the last round, losing the first leg 2-0 at home and the second leg 4-0 away. This opposition won’t be quite so tough, while having the experience of those two competitive matches should have their match rhythm up, having only played local friendlies since wrapping up a 53rd league title at the end of April, finishing with a comfortable seven-point lead over runners-up Ballymena United.
HB coach Heimer Gudjonsson will have been impressed by the spirit of his team’s brief resurgence in the last outing, pegging HJK back, that he’ll probably opt for a similar approach here – Danish striker Sebastian Pingel could well lead the line after scoring last time, alongside his fellow countryman and goalscorer that night, defender Lasse Anderson. Ari Olson has eight goals in his last ten appearances and could well feature in the forward line here.
Despite being solidly outdone by Rosenborg, expect Linfield to approach the game in much the same way, hoping that their usual domestic dominance sees them through over a fellow European minnow. It will be an all-Irish XI with the exception of French midfielder Hery Bastien, a recent signing after forging a solid career with Limerick and Waterford. Andrew Waterworth, who scored 17 goals last season, could come back into the starting XI after only appearing from the bench last time out.
The bookmakers have this one relatively evenly matched, with Linfield travelling for this one and their poor results in the last round. Still, they’ve got a better record in European fixtures than the opposition, who are midway through a mediocre season in the Faroe Islands league. For this reason, an away win for Linfield at 13/8 with SkyBet is worth considering, while it could be a high-scoring cracker. Some of HB’s recent domestic results include a 5-0 win, a 5-1 win, a 6-4 win and a 4-1 win – over 2.5 goals is worth backing at 11/10, which can be stretched to over 4.5 goals at 7/1 if you’re feeling bold.