More champions from around Europe’s smaller footballing leagues face off in Champions League qualifying on Wednesday evening as Maribor of Slovenia take on surprise package from Sweden, AIK. The hosts are two games into the new league season as they look to secure yet another Slovenian title, with AIK of Sweden are in full swing, midway through the Swedish league season – they’re currently 2nd, locked in a close battle with Malmo for the top spot.
Maribor are looking to qualify for the Champions League proper for the first time since 2017, when they went home without a win from the group stage, conceding 10 goals home and away to Liverpool. They’ve made a good start this time, though, cruising past Icelandic side Valur with a 5-0 aggregate victory in the last round of qualifying. However, those European distractions look to have taken their toll on their usually-imperious domestic form; they’ve had a poor start to the season in the league, with a shock 2-1 defeat to Triglav in the opener before an underwhelming 1-1 draw with Rudar at the weekend.
AIK, meanwhile, overcame a 2-1 home defeat to Ararat-Armenia to qualify for this round, coming back to win the second leg 3-1 at the Friends Arena. They’ll be hoping to travel better against sterner opposition on this occasion, and will take confidence from their winning streak in the domestic game; they’ve won eight of the last 11 in the league, including the last three, and have recorded four clean sheets in a row. A strong defensive display will be necessary here if they’re to make it to the next round.
Veteran Brazilian striker Marcos Tavares led the line as Maribor completed the job against Vadur last week, scoring in the second-leg 2-0 win, and is expected to feature once again up top. Emerging talent Andrej Kotnik looks to have slotted in seamlessly into midfield after making the summer move from Gorica. As their results show, Maribor’s focus on this point is making progress in Europe as the windfall of qualifying for the final tournament is massive – expect the strongest possible team from former Leeds United manager Darko Milanic.
Expect AIK to pack numbers into the backline and travel to Slovenia in search of a clean sheet and an away goal on the counter. They maintained their strong defensive streak on Saturday in a 3-5-2 formation, which could look more like a back five if they play cautiously in this all-important, cagey fixture. Expect Nigerian striker Chinedu Obasi to partner Kolbeinn Sigþórsson up top.
AIK are in fine form domestically, especially on the defensive side of things, so will travel to Maribor confident of keeping a clean sheet. Bet365 offer odds of 8/11 that both teams won’t score, and you can get generous odds of 19/10 for AIK – fully in their groove, midway through the Swedish season – to come away with a big away win. You can also combine the two to get bumper odds of 7/2 for AIK to win and both teams not to score.