WHERE, WHAT AND WHY

It's Dundalk v KI Klaksvik in a Europa League play-off at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. This tie will be settled on the night, with extra-time and penalties if necessary. The winners progress to the group stages of Europe's second-tier competition. 

WEATHER

It'll be chilly, rainy and thundery in Dublin, with hail a possibility. Temperatures are unlikely to get above 12 Celsius, though it will be calm with only light breezes.

COVERAGE

Live blog from 7pm on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app. The game is being aired live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player from 7pm. It kicks off at 7.30pm


A chance to salvage a rollercoaster season

It's a funny old game.

Dundalk have had endured their most tumultuous campaign in years and yet this evening at the Aviva Stadium, they could book themselves a lucrative ticket to the Europa League group stages.

The Lilywhites have, admittedly, benefited from a relatively favourable pathway to this point.

Having been beaten 3-0 by Slovenian champions NK Celje in the Champions League first qualifying round [Vinny Perth's last game in charge], they squeezed past Inter d'Escaldes of Andorra with ten men and then held their nerve in a penalty shootout against Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova.

Those games weren't easy, but at least Dundalk avoided top seeds Qarabag, who turned them over 4-1 on aggregate in the second round of Champions League qualifying last year.

Faroese champions KI Klaksvik won't be a pushover by any means but this really does represent a massive opportunity for the Co Louth club. 

Italian Filippo Giovagnoli has been at the helm for about a month now and he knows how high the stakes are at Lansdowne Road. If the home team prevail, they will be guaranteed a windfall of €2.9m.

Dundalk returned from Moldova in the early hours of Friday morning, trained on Saturday and then took on Shamrock Rovers Sunday evening.

Giovagnoli made ten changes for that Oriel Park clash, with the rampant Hoops running out 4-0 winners. A win tomorrow will utterly wipe that loss from the memory banks. 


The Faroese underdogs breaking new ground

This is a mammoth tie for Dundalk of course but what about the visitors?

KI are in uncharted territory here. No club side from the Faroes has ever progressed to this point in the qualification stages for the Europa League so national interest in the clash is enormous. 

Having been awarded a 3-0 walkover win over Slovan Bratislava in the Champions League first qualifying round due to a Bratislava player testing positive for Covid-19, they lost 3-1 to Young Boys in the second round, dropping into Europa League qualifying.

They weren't really fancied after being pitted against Dinamo Tbilisi, but KI slaughtered them 6-1 in Torshavin to spark wild celebrations. 

Most of their players have full-time jobs outside of football but KI are no mugs. That win against Tbilisi was a serious statement, a result and performance that genuinely sent shockwaves around Europe.

Boss Mikkjal Thomassen has been overseeing steady improvement at the club since he took charge in 2015.

They're treating this game as a free swing - and they fancy their chances.

"I know that in Ireland the players are well prepared physically and fight for every ball, but our team is also perfectly prepared, whether in terms of running or tactics," their Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Jarosinski said earlier this week.

"We have analysed every detail of the rival. Dundalk will respect us. We beat Dinamo Tbilisi well. We did a good job. They must win. We simply can.

"We are going to Ireland to be promoted to the Europa League. The pressure is greater on the Irish, but we will do our best and play 100%."


A mouthwatering spectacle behind closed doors

It's an awful shame that a match of this magnitude will take place without any supporters inside the ground but that's the way of it at the moment.

Dublin remains in Level 3, which means all games must be played behind closed doors, though UEFA rules mean that all qualifiers for the Europa League and Champions League must be played behind closed doors anyway.

Since Oriel Park doesn't meet UEFA requirements to host a game at this stage of the competition, Giovagnoli's team are heading for the capital.


Team news

Dundalk's 4-0 league thumping at the hands of Shamrock Rovers wasn't a particularly pleasant experience for the players or the fans but Giovagnoli had to take a pragmatic approach to that game.

"We had to let players rest, it wasn't safe to play them," he said. "It was not only about the [upcoming] game, they can get hurt besides the importance of the game we have on Thursday.

"Of course our focus from now is to prepare for this game and to be part of the history of this club."

It means he has a fresh, largely healthy panel to choose from for the big one. 

Chris Shields is suspended after picking up three yellow cards in the previous three European matches, while Sean Gannon is a doubt with an ankle problem. Dane Massey is ruled out after hip surgery however Andy Boyle is available for selection after he served a one-match ban last week.


What they said

Filippo Giovignali (Dundalk manager): "Ki are a dangerous team. They don't need control of the game and don't need possession. They play a certain way and we have prepared for that. I am sure that we are going to perform to a high level.

"The focus is on the club and it presents us with an amazing opportunity. It's about the club and the players and what can happen. It's for the entire football nation in Ireland. It's important for everybody.

"This game is a final. You can say so many things but this is a final. When you are in a final, you deserve to be there, it is important to them and important to us. We are here now and we want to get to the group stages."

Mikkjal Thomassen (KI manager): "It's a big game, but we’ve had plenty of big games," Thomassen told The Dundalk Democrat. "I think we will treat it as any other game, knowing that we’re up against a good team. We have to play the game and not let the occasion get to us.

"We expect it to be a game where we have to be ready to utilise some of our strengths and we are extremely well prepared, so let's see how that goes."

Follow Dundalk v KI Klaksvik (kick-off 7.30pm) via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ news app, or watch live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player from 7pm.