Preview of Thursday’s play off first leg in Latvia

Posted : 16th August 2022 at 21:02:44

​Linfield's European campaign heads to Latvia when facing hosts FK RFS at the Skonto Stadion, Riga (6pm ko UK time), in the first leg of this UEFA Europa Conference League play-off tie. The winners of the tie will progress to the group stage of the competition. The Blues will be lining out at the Skonto Stadion, which was built in 2000 and is the second largest stadium in the country with a capacity of 6,915 (seated).

FK RFS are well into their own domestic season, having already played 24 games and sitting second in the Latvian Higher League table. Last season was the most successful in the club's sixty-year-old history, lifting a first ever title trophy in a league and cup double. They also enjoyed a long European run which took them to a Third-Round Qualifying tie in the UEFA Europa Conference League. In this season's competition they have already defeated Hibernians (Malta) (agg 4-2). Their squad is composed of players from Latvia, Austria, Slovenia, Serbia, Lithuania, Brazil, Gambia and the Ivory Coast. A player for the Linfield defence to watch is striker Austrian Kevin Friesenbichler, who has struck 14 goals this season. The former Austrian u-21 international has a CV that includes spells at Austria Wein, Strum Graz, Vfl Osnabruck and Lechia Gdańsk.

Linfield head to Latvia in good shape having kicked off their own title defence with a comfortable win (4-0) over visitors Portadown. The historic decision to move the game to a Sunday was backed by the majority of supporters of both teams, with a very healthy attendance of just over 2,800 at Windsor Park. The Blues enjoyed plenty of possession in the game, peppering the Portadown goal on the way to finding the net four times. David's decision to hand a start up front to Ethan Devine, was rewarded with a goal and a performance which earned the young striker the MotM award.

It is yet another tough assignment for Linfield in the unforgiving European football arena. At this stage of any European competition, it is a given that all teams will present a real challenge for their opponents. The Blues will be aiming to keep it tight at the back, to hopefully take a first away clean sheet in the campaign back for the second leg in Belfast. It is a massive game with much at stake for both clubs, with the winner of the tie heading for a lucrative run of games in the group stage of the competition. COYB!

Ken Garrett.

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