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Skënderbeu hoping 'third time's a charm'

President Ardian Takaj is hoping "third time's a charm" for KS Skënderbeu as they look to progress from the second qualifying round at the expense of Neftçi PFK.

Skënderbeu drew 0-0 with Neftçi in last week's first leg
Skënderbeu drew 0-0 with Neftçi in last week's first leg ©LSA

Albanian champions KS Skënderbeu have been UEFA Champions League second qualifying round regulars in recent years, but on Tuesday they will look to make the next step for the first time.

Skënderbeu and Neftçi PFK drew 0-0 in Azerbaijan in last week's first leg, leaving the tie evenly poised for the second instalment in Korca. "The upcoming match will be different," said Skënderbeu goalkeeper Orges Shehi. "It is true we didn't let Neftçi score, but they have a good team with dangerous attackers and it will not be easy to eliminate them. We have to score more than them and defend better than them. We started well [last week] but we need to learn to keep doing the same things and not give our opponents easy shots. We have to focus the entire match because they have a good side with strong, fast players. But as the home team we will have the support of our fans – the best in Albania."

Skënderbeu's bright opening in Baku last Wednesday prefigured a more conservative approach to the contest, with the priority very much on stifling their hosts. "We had a strategy and the task was completed," coach Mirel Joca told UEFA.com. "The first result is promising but we need to win the next game to advance." Affected by the recent departure of Sebino Plaku to WKS Śląsk Wrocław, Skënderbeu found the net just once in five friendly fixtures at their pre-season camp in Austria. Joca has now brought in Gilman Lika and Mario Morina from KF Tirana, as well as Jetmir Sefa from KS Bylis. "We have the players and we have created chances, we just have to do a better job of finishing," added Joca.

Joca should have defender Ditmar Bicaj available again after he missed out through injury last week. "It was tough to watch from the stands, but I will be ready for the next match," said Bicaj. "I have been working hard to be 100%, but it will be the coach's decision if I start. Our fans will be ready and it's our job to deliver."

Even without Bicaj, Skënderbeu managed to keep a clean sheet in testing circumstances. "[Bici] is our leader at the back, but we have a great group of players," said fellow defender Renato Arapi. "Everyone stepped up their game and we were able to escape from Baku with a clean sheet."

Skënderbeu have been here before. Albanian champions in 2011, 2012 and 2013, they have entered the second qualifying round for three seasons in a row but have yet to progress. They came closest to doing so last term, winning 1-0 against Hungary's Debreceni VSC before losing 3-0 in the return. "In the past two seasons, results have gone against us, but we still hope – third time's a charm," said president Ardian Takaj.