This week's games: what to look out for

Battling underdogs in Malta, ex-colleagues in Nicosia, and an aversion to trains  provide the backdrop for some of this week's first legs; get the inside line with

Hibernians coach Branko Nišević spoke to
Hibernians coach Branko Nišević spoke to ©Domenic Aquilina

The UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first legs are played on Tuesday and Wednesday; our correspondents mark your cards.


Hibernians up for Maccabi (Tuesday 20.00CET)
"As we do in most of these types of matches, we start out as underdogs," shrugged Hibernians coach Branko Nišević as he prepared his side for action against their Israeli opponents. "But that does not mean that we will surrender the moment we step out on to the pitch." Malta's coach of the season for 2014/15, the Serbian has lost star striker Edison Tarabai over the summer, but fellow Brazilian Gilmar has been earmarked to fill that gap, with a couple more Brazilians and English goalkeeper Matthew Towns further strengthening his hand.

"These matches are a great opportunity for our players to experience top-level European club football at club level," the coach told "These games can help us step up the level of our play, regardless of the final outcome."

Domenic Aquilina

Grncarov (R) with APOEL in 2009
Grncarov (R) with APOEL in 2009©Getty Images

APOEL's Vardar connection (Tuesday 19.00CET) 
The sides are meeting for the first time, but two names on the Vardar teamsheet will be familiar to APOEL fans. Defender Boban Grncarov was a member of the APOEL team that reached the UEFA Champions League group stage in 2009/10. "I think they were much stronger back then," he said. "Our chances are 50-50, or maybe APOEL have a slight advantage due to their group-stage experience. We can expect a hell of an atmosphere in the stands over there."

Vardar team-mate Vlako Grozdanoski, a Cypriot Cup winner during his time with APOEL's rivals Omonia, agreed: "I was in Cyprus for three years, and I am well aware that hell awaits us – in the stands, but also with the weather!"

John Leonidou, Emil Gasevski

Sarajevo celebrate their title success
Sarajevo celebrate their title success©Fedja Krvavac

Sarajevo rail against Lech (Tuesday 21.00CET)
The champions of Bosnia and Herzegovina hope that their innate antipathy towards football clubs associated with railways will serve them well as they take on Lech Poznań, the 'Kolejorz' (Railwaymen) having been closely associated with Poland's state train company for much of their history.

Sarajevo's main capital rivals are Željezničar (literally, railway worker), and coach Dženan Uščuplić hopes the whiff of engine smoke will help stoke up his side as they fight above their weight against Lech. "It is always a great honour and pleasure to take on our own railwaymen, and we have always wanted to beat them," he explained. "Now we will transfer that desire to the Polish railwaymen."

Fuad Krvavac

New Midtjylland boss Jess Thorup
New Midtjylland boss Jess Thorup©Sportsfile

Midtjylland's new broom (Tuesday 19.30CET)
Danish champions Midtjylland will make their UEFA Champions League debut with a new coach at the helm after Jess Thorup was appointed to replace Glen Riddersholm at the weekend. Thorup led Denmark to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship last month, but he jumped at the chance to lead Midtjylland into Europe against their visitors from Gibraltar.

"I've always found Midtjylland to be an interesting club," he said. "They're an innovative side who are always looking far ahead, with a big focus on developing their own talent." The Jutland outfit are no less pleased to have the 45-year-old on board. "Jess stands for FCM's values," explained sporting director Claus Steinlein. "He's a team player."

Peter Bruun

Partizan's evergreen Saša Ilić
Partizan's evergreen Saša Ilić©Getty Images

Partizan's Georgian memories (Tuesday 20.45CET)
In addition to his neat passing and eye for goal, Saša Ilić boasts a particularly long memory. As a result, he will be taking nothing for granted against Partizan's Georgian opponents Dil Gori on Tuesday. "I have experience with Georgian clubs and, in 1998, we had big problems with Dinamo Batumi," noted the 37-year-old, who recently penned a new one-year contract.

"Dila Gori are a quality club, and the weather in Georgia will cause us problems. We have to be in our best form in the first match at home and try to secure qualification." Partizan, who are back from a three-week training camp in Slovenia, can nonetheless count upon fresh talent in former Juventus and Manchester City forward Valeri Bojinov, and Aboubakar Oumarou.

Aleksandar Bošković

Look out for TNS's No18
Look out for TNS's No18©

TNS running Wilde (Tuesday 20.00CET)
The only fully professional club in the Welsh top division, TNS are used to daunting opponents at home, and may have a significant weapon to use against their Hungarian guests. Striker Michael Wilde scored four goals over the course of their first qualifying round success against Faroese side B36 Tórshavn, making him the all-time top scorer for Welsh clubs in UEFA competition with six goals.

"We are all looking forward to the next round and confident we can get a result," said Wilde. "Of course I am hoping to add more goals but we all know that Videoton will pose a big threat."

Mark Pitman

Trenčín expect plenty of support
Trenčín expect plenty of support©

Trenčín's home from home (Tuesday 20.30CET)
The youngest coach in the Slovak league, 39-year-old Martin Ševela has the honour of leading AS Trenčín in their first UEFA Champions League game. The only shame is that it was not a little easier than a meeting with 1986 European champions Steaua Bucureşti. "We cannot change the draw, but we can improve our form," said Ševela, who joined the club as a player in 2009, and became coach in 2012.

With their home stadium being rebuilt, Trenčín will play at the home of league rivals Žilina, but are expecting to fill the 10,700-seater venue, the first tranche of 5,000 tickets having sold out in the space of four days. "We hope the ticket kiosks outside the stadium will stay closed," said a Trenčín spokesman. "That will mean the tickets are all sold out in advance."

Rastislav Hribik

HJK coach Mika Lehkusuo
HJK coach Mika Lehkusuo©AFP/Getty Images

HJK under a cloud (Tuesdsy 17.30CET)
"We are in middle of a mini-crisis, to say the least," said worried HJK coach Mika Lehkosuo after Friday's 2-1 defeat at title rivals RoPS Rovaniemi left the Finnish league leaders with only two points from their last four games. That could be great news for their Latvian hosts on Tuesday.

HJK have some injury worries, but expect both winger Demba Savage and full-back Veli Lampi to be in the frame for the Ventspils game, with Lehkosuo hoping their luck will change soon. "We are going through a tough period and everyone – the coach, players, the whole team – is now working to find our way through it," he said.

Mikael Erävuori

Dinamo coach Zoran Mamić
Dinamo coach Zoran Mamić©AFP/Getty Images

Dinamo's cursed fortune (Wednesday 21.00CET)
The 'curse of the coin' still haunts Dinamo as they set out on their 34th European campaign since they last survived beyond the winter break. That came when they reached the quarter-finals of the 1969/70 European Cup Winners' Cup, and myth has it that the club have laboured for so long because of their controversial first-round success against Spartak Brno in the 1966/67 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

Dinamo went on to win the the competition that season, but their run could have been halted at the start after the Spartak tie was settled on a coin toss. Blues captain Slaven Zambata allegedly began celebrating as soon as the coin hit the ground, and in the ensuing confusion no one – referee or opponents – actually checked the result. Some Dinamo fans feel their team has been paying the price ever since.

Elvir Islamović