Thursday 5 August

UEFA Europa Conference League fixtures
Vitesse Arnhem v Dundalk, Arnhem, 6pm
Shamrock Rovers v Teuta Durres, Tallaght Stadium, 8pm

Where to watch?
Both games are available on LOITV - more information here.

Rain is supposed to clear in Arnhem early in the day, with dry and pleasantly warm weather to follow. The weather in Dublin is supposed to be showery all evening, and we all know Tallaght tends to be windier than most other places on earth.

Better forecasting is provided by

Bohemians to inspire LOI rivals?

I think most SSE Airtricity League supporters took some form of pleasure out of Bohemians' commendable 2-1 victory over PAOK on Tuesday night at the Aviva Stadium.

Online budget estimates for the Greek giants ranged from €25-€80 million per annum, but even at the lowest end of those figures, they're spending about 25 times more on paying their players than the Dalymount Park club are.

And yet Bohs came away with a 2-1 victory despite some previews hinting that they'd be lucky to come away with a 3-0 defeat.

While they still have plenty to do, and are still outsiders to go through, as Keith Long acknowledged afterwards, the performance they put in on Tuesday should give hope to the two League of Ireland clubs in action later today.

Dundalk boosted by away form

Followers of Dundalk might point out that their own European experiences over the last five years are what they will be leaning on later in The Netherlands.

Twice they've reached the group stages of the Europa League, while last week's late victory over Levadia Tallinn was particularly satisfying.

This evening's opponents Vitesse Arnhem finished 4th last season in the Eredivisie and reached the final of the Dutch Cup, losing 2-1 to Ajax. The new season there is set to kick off in 10 days' time.

They've done some business in the off season, bringing in striker Nikolai Baden Frederiksen from Juventus, midfielder Toni Domgjoni, as well as goalkeeper Markus Schubert from Shalke 04. They've also brought back Lois Openda on loan from Brugge after he scored 10 goals last season.

Will Patching's goal helped Dundalk to progress last week

They reached the group stages of the Europa League as recently as the 2017/18 season, while they lost to Basel in the second qualifying round three seasons ago.

According to UEFA's club rankings, Vitesse go into this game in 146th position, some 20 places behind the visitors to the GelreDome.

Speaking ahead of the game Darragh Leahy pointed to the return of Vinny Perth to the club as a welcome move.

"Since Vinny came back our form has been a bit more steady and it's another opportunity to play against a top team in Europe and we're going to be really looking forward to it," he said.

The Lilywhites come into the game off back-to-back away wins in Europe - against Levadia and Newtown - and that'll be the target ahead of next week's return leg in west Dublin.

Rovers looking to bounce back in Conference League

Shamrock Rovers' domestic form of late has been solid if not spectacular, having lost a couple more games since Dundalk ended their unbeaten league run in late May.

Granted, they're still clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity League, three clear of St Patrick's Athletic - who they beat 3-1 last week - and also through to the second round of the FAI Cup after seeing off Galway.

They battled bravely to put themselves in contention for Champions League progress last month, moving into a two-goal lead after losing 2-0 to Bratislava in Slovakia.

Rovers were unlucky to get knocked out of the Champions League

A controversial winner from Vladimír Weiss ended their hopes in Europe's premier club competition however, but they have the consolation of being in the champions section of the Conference League.

One man The Hoops could be without is Liam Scales, with the defender strongly rumoured to be subject of a €600,000 bid from Celtic. Although manager Stephen Bradley confirmed on Wednesday that the Arklow man should be available.

Forward Graham Burke, who scored against Slovan, should be back after missing the win over St Pat's through injury.

Who are Tueta Durres?

Albanian side Tueta Durres got to this round by defeating Androrra's Inter Club d'Escaldes, a side that Dundalk beat in the Europa League qualifiers last season by a goal to nil (Covid-19 meant a single leg).

Tueta had to do it the hard way in the last round. They lost the home leg 2-0, but they forced extra-time after winning 2-0 in the return match at the Estadio Nacional. Albanian international Sherif Kallaku would prove to the hero, scoring the deciding goal - a penalty - in the extra 30 minute period.

Like Rovers they exited the Champions League in the first qualifying round, but their defeat wasn't up for debate as they were comprehensively put to the sword, 5-0 on aggregate, by Sheriff Tiraspol.

They won last season's Kategoria Superiore on goal difference, but the new season doesn't kick off until 9 September so they might be lacking that match sharpness that Rovers will have.

Albanian international Sherif Kallaku is a danger man for Tueta

Midfielder Kallaku - the man that scored that winner in the last round - is an important player for them. He managed 14 goals for Tueta two seasons ago, earning him a move to NK Lokomotiva Zagreb in Croatia. But he's back at the Albanian champions on loan.

Striker Pepi Gorgiev spent last season with Sileks Kratovo in the North Macedonian top flight, scoring 13 goals as the club got relegated.

European progress for Tueta has been rare, although they did get past Beitar Jerusalem in the first round of the Europa League qualifiers last season. They've also beaten Valletta (Malta) this century, as well as the aforementioned extra-time win over Inter Club d'Escaldes.

"We've watched a lot of their games and we know that they're dangerous," said Stephen Bradley.

"They have some really good technical players in the attacking part of the pitch. A lot of movement, a lot of rotations and some high-quality players. We know it's going to be a difficult tie but it's one we're really looking forward to and we're ready for.

"We're in really good form and it's a game that we're really looking forward to. It excites us, and we've got to try and make it another special European night in Tallaght."

The winner in this tie will be playing the loser of the Europa League qualifier between Omonia (Cyprus) and Flora (Estonia) so this is a big chance for the Hoops to move a step closer to a return to a European group stage a decade after their Europa League group appearance.

The Elbasan Arena will host the return leg next Thursday.

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