After both falling at the second stage of Champions League qualification last week, Kazakh champions Kairat and Alashkert FC of Armenia will now battle it out for a place in the Europa League playoffs on Thursday.
While the pair were ultimately dispatched from Europe's top-tier competition by a clear margin, they now convene at Almaty's Central Stadium for the first leg of a closely-matched tie.
Hoping to advance to the third round of Champions League qualifying for the first time last Wednesday night, Kairat saw their hopes cruelly dashed by a dominant Red Star Belgrade side at the Rajko Mitic Stadium.
Having travelled to the Serbian capital with a hard-earned first-leg lead, the 2020 Kazakhstan Premier League winners were picked apart, as Red Star reversed their one-goal deficit within the first 20 minutes - going on to win 5-0 on the night.
While qualification for the group stages of Europe's premier competition was always going to be a long shot for the club that lifted their third top-flight title - and first since 2004 - last term, they must quickly get back on track ahead of Thursday's game.
Kirill Keker's men are seeking to finally qualify for the group stages of a UEFA competition, having tried and failed on seven occasions in as many years - the closest coming back in 2015. After dumping Red Star and Aberdeen - plus this week's opponents, Alashkert - out in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League that year, the Almaty-based outfit fell at the final hurdle; losing to Bordeaux in the playoff round.
To reach that stage again, they will certainly have to up their game from recent domestic engagements, as Kairat lost a third Kazakh Cup group match from four at the weekend - conceding four goals in the process.
Alashkert also come into this game on the back of a chastening defeat, after they went down 3-1 to Sheriff Tiraspol at the Moldovan champions' Glavnaya Arena last week, to exit the Champions League qualifiers.
The highlight of their run in the competition was an enthralling 3-2 aggregate win over Connah's Quay Nomads last month, when French midfielder Vincent Bezecourt's late strike shattered Welsh hopes deep into extra time.
Last year, Alashkert wrapped up their first Armenian title since 2018, with coach Aleksandr Grigoryan taking the reins after his predecessor left to take charge of the national team. He has since departed, though, with Sergey Erzrumyan recently stepping into the hotseat.
However, Erzrumyan's side have suffered from sluggish form since scraping through in Flintshire, and that must be reversed soon if their continental ambitions are to be realised. After losing both legs against Sheriff, the Yerevan club proceeded to start their defence of the Armenian Premier League crown with a 3-0 home defeat to Ararat on Sunday, so prospects of making the Europa League playoffs rely on a quick bounce-back in Kazakhstan.
First-leg hosts Kairat have been without Macky Bagnack, Jacek Goralski and goalkeeper Stas Pokatilov since positive COVID-19 tests last week, so each of the trio are in jeopardy of missing out once again on Thursday. Danil Ustimenko has been deputising in goal, so should continue against Alashkert.
Gafurzhan Suyumbayev, Nebojsa Kosovic and Brazilian striker Joao Paulo are set to be sidelined due to injury, but the latter's compatriot, former CSKA Moscow forward Vagner Love, will lead the line in a probable 4-3-3 formation.
Alashkert made six new signings during the summer break, one of whom was Portuguese forward Jose Embalo - scorer of 15 goals in the Polish third tier last season - and the former Rapid Bucharest man is battling it out for a place up front with Aleksandr Glisic, who started the second leg against Sheriff.
CSKA Moscow youth graduate David Khurtsidze - who netted a double against Connah's Quay - should join in from behind the lone frontman, in a 4-1-4-1 setup for the visiting side.
Kairat possible starting lineup:
Ustimenko; Mikanovic, Dugalic, Alip, Keyler; Palyakow, Abiken, Hovhannisyan; Shushenachev, Vagner Love, Kante
Alashkert FC possible starting lineup:
Yurchenko; Cameta, Voskanyan, Kadio, Boljevic, James; Khurtsidze, Hovsepyan, Grigoryan, Davidyan; Embalo
We say: Kairat 2-1 Alashkert FC
Though both sides have been defensively suspect in recent games, Kairat are much further into their domestic campaign and were able to defeat Red Star Belgrade at the Central Stadium just a fortnight ago.
By comparison, Alashkert have a more modest budget and would be delighted to take a draw back to Yerevan, but the hosts are set to take at least a one-goal lead into the second leg.
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