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Irtysh hope fortune favours the brave

After "surviving" last week's trip to Bulgaria, FC Irtysh Pavlodar are planning to put PFC Levski Sofia on the back foot when the tie resumes in Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Irtysh Pavlodar coach Talgat Baisufinov
Irtysh Pavlodar coach Talgat Baisufinov ©Renat Suurov

FC Irtysh Pavlodar are on the verge of reaching the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round for the second time – and forward Sergei Strukov hopes luck will be on their side when they meet PFC Levski Sofia on Thursday.

After coming away from Bulgaria with an excellent 0-0 draw in last week's first leg, the Kazakh Premier League runners-up will have home advantage as Levski make the 4,000km trip to Pavlodar in the north-east corner of the country. "We survived and got a draw in Sofia, but the home leg will not be any easier," said Strukov, in his second spell with the club.

"We have to be more attacking in Pavlodar, put more men in front of the ball, with less focus on the defence. Everything depends on us and our luck. I think if we do things right then luck will be on our side. It is very important in games like these."

Pavlodar is home to a major oil refinery, and Irtysh fires will be burning brightly after the outstanding performance of Vyacheslav Kotlyar last Thursday. Alongside Serbian midfielder Predrag Govedarica and the creative Igor Yurin, the goalkeeper will be key if his side are to book a place in the next stage against Bosnian and Herzegovinian Cup winners NK Široki Brijeg.

Progress will match the feat of two seasons ago, when Irtysh made it past the first qualifying round at their third attempt, defeating Poland's Jagiellonia Białystok before falling to FC Metalurgi Rustavi. To achieve that, though, or even go one better, coach Talgat Baisufinov knows the team need to strengthen, signified by the recruitment of left-back Gafurzhan Suyumbayev from FC Ordabasy Shymkent and FC Zhetysu Taldykorgan midfielder Evgeni Averchenko prior to the secong leg.

"The wings are our main problem," said the coach. "Our wingers must be fast and mobile, they have to tackle and be able to make killer passes. I did not see those qualities in our squad so we decided to strengthen a couple of positions on the flanks. We are aware that we are expected to perform in the domestic championship and the Europa League. The most important part of the year is beginning and we are ready."