Last week's Europa League qualifying draw left Dundalk with no illusions about the path they will have to take to get into the competition's group stage for the second time.
A clash against the winner of the tie between Georgia's Dinamo Tbilisi and Ki Klaksvik of the Faroes Islands awaits in the play-off round but, to get to that final stage of qualification, the Louth club must first overcome Moldova's Sheriff Tiraspol, who have reached the group stages four times, in Thursday night's third round away from home.
Kick-off will be at 7pm Irish time at the Sheriff Stadium in Tiraspol.
🛬 We've arrived in Moldova. Next stop is Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria. pic.twitter.com/xaYM2yRHD3— DundalkFC (@DundalkFC) September 22, 2020
Temperatures in Tiraspol are expected to peak at 27 degrees on Thursday, with no rain forecast.
Live blog from 6.45pm on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app. The game is being streamed, with details on Dundalk's website and social channels.
Since the turn of the Millennium, Sheriff have been a dominant force in Moldovan football, winning 18 league titles and nine cups since the start of the 2000-01 season. This season, they are well clear of their domestic opposition after winning 10 from 10 games in a campaign that started mid-summer.
Top scorer in the Moldovan league this season is Sheriff's Colombian forward Frank Castañeda who has eight goals and also netted against Qarabag in the Champions League second qualifying round. He has also been their leading assists provider this season with four.
Second top scorer with five goals, Anatole Abang, who has had international experience with Cameroon, left the club earlier this month.
They went into those 2020-21 Champions League qualifiers as reigning league champions from the 2019 campaign but after seeing off Luxembourg's Fola Esch in the first round, lost 2-1 to Qarabag, which saw them drop into the Europa League qualifiers. Dundalk are their first assignment in this competition and first European game this season on home soil.
Given their dominance of the Moldovan league, the club has plenty of experience in European qualifiers and reached the group stage of the Europa League in 2009-10, 2010-11, 2013-14 and 2017-18.
They also boast a squad drawing players from across Europe, South America and Africa, including a small Croatian contingent from the same nation as current head coach Zoran Zekic.
He lined them up in a 3-5-2 against Qarabag, although they employed a back four in the previous round against Fola Esch.
DUNDALK TEAM NEWS
Interim Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli guided the Lilywhites past Andorra's Inter Club d'Escaldes last week thanks to David McMillan's winner and has also picked up wins in the league and cup against Shelbourne and Cobh Ramblers respectively since his surprise appointment at the end of August.
Dane Massey will definitely miss out against Sheriff due to a quad muscle tear that is expected to keep him out for the next couple of months.
Centre-back Andy Boyle is also suspended for the trip to Moldova, with Giovagnoli suggesting to dundalkfc.com that Sean Gannon is likely to replace him.
Dundalk will then face SSE Airtricity League leaders Shamrock Rovers live on RTÉ2 this Sunday upon their return from Moldova.
The winners of Thursday's tie will be within touching distance of the Europa League group stages. Should Dundalk advance past Sheriff, they will face either Dinamo Tbilisi or Ki Klaksvik in the champions path section of the play-off round next week on 1 October.
Emerge from that and the Lilywhites would be back in the group stages for the second time in the club's history and third time ever for a League of Ireland side.
The group stage draw for the Europa League is set to take place on Friday, 2 October, with the first rounds of group games in the competition proper to take place 20 days later.
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