Linfield's European campaign moves to Switzerland when meeting FC Zurich at the Stadion Letzigrund, in the second leg of this UEFA Europa League Third Round Qualification tie (6pm ko UK time). The winners of the tie will meet SPL side Hearts. The losers of the tie will drop down as a seeded team into the UEFA Conference League play-off round to play the winner of the RFS (Latvia) v Hibernians (Malta) tie which is delicately poised at 1-1.
Thursday night's game in Switzerland will be played at the Stadion Letzigrund, which is owned by the City of Zurich, and was constructed in 2005 with a seated capacity of 25,000. The stadium, also used as a major concert venue, has a pitch-side athletic track used to host international meetings. FC Zurich and Grasshopper Zurich FC are both long-term sitting tenants in this multi-purpose stadium. Both clubs have plans awaiting a final approval vote on the table, for a new shared stadium (18,000) at the proposed Credit Suisse Arena. It seems only fitting that Zurich, the home city of football's governing body FIFA, is set to build a purpose-built football stadium.
Linfield face an up-hill task looking to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg in Belfast (0-2). In a game of few chances, it was the Swiss Champions who were able to find the net with two clinical finishes, putting a seal on a very professional performance. Linfield though were always in the game, looking much more dangerous after the second half introduction of fit again Joel Cooper. It was however to be a disappointing night for the Blues and the faithful supporters who were once again out in numbers to back the team.
FC Zurich come into the game on the back of a 3-0 home defeat (0-3) to Sion at the weekend. New head coach Frank Foda will be looking for a quick upturn in results to lift his team off the bottom of the table and reignite their title defence. He has inherited a cosmopolitan squad of players that is a good blend of youth and experience. It contains one of Europe's most exciting young players in Italian international Wilfred Gnonto, scorer of the second Zurich goal in Belfast. The talented striker, who is already on the radar of some of Europe's top clubs, looks destined for a stellar career in the game.
David will be under no illusions as to the enormity of the task that lies ahead. Even after they deservedly won the first leg, the Linfield manager will be expecting Zurich to play much better on their own home turf. The Blues must aim to see through the first quarter of the game unscathed and look for an early goal to unsettle the Zurich team. Judging by the vociferous Zurich supporters who made the journey to Belfast, the Linfield players are in for a noisy night in the Stadion Letzigrund! Kudos are certainly due to the 50 Linfield supporters who will be travelling to Zurich to cheer on their team. It would of course be an upset in the eyes of the bookmakers if Linfield were to go on to win the tie. But just try telling those Zurich bound Linfield supporters that it can't be done! COYB!