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Preview: Omonia vs. Flora - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Omonia vs. Flora - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Omonia and Flora, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

Having both fallen at the second stage of Champions League qualification, Cypriot champions Omonia meet Estonia's Flora on Thursday, in the first leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie.

After their 3-0 aggregate loss to Dinamo Zagreb last week, Henning Berg's home side will be keen to build an advantage ahead of next week's return leg in Tallinn.

Match preview

After securing direct entry into the second round of Champions League qualifying through UEFA's Champions' Path system, Omonia were handed a particularly unkind draw when pitted together with Croatian title-winners Dinamo Zagreb.

Though their resistance was brave, Dinamo first took a lead over the Nicosia-based outfit in the 65th minute of the first leg and never relinquished that advantage - breezing through by a three-goal margin over the course of 180 minutes.

Outsiders to progress in any case, Omonia's cause was not helped by their first competitive match of the new season coming only days before, when they managed to lift the Cypriot Super Cup by beating Anorthosis on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

With their title defence not due to get underway until later this month, Henning Berg's side must now switch their sights to winning a two-legged encounter with Flora, or face a further demotion - to the new Europa Conference League.

To aid his team's quest for continental progress, former Manchester United defender Berg has brought in American veteran Mix Diskerud and former Real Mallorca defender Hector Yuste on free transfers, with matching last year's group stage qualification his target this term.

Though they finished bottom of Group E - which also featured Granada, PSV and PAOK - the 21-times national champions certainly boast a stronger European pedigree than their more modest opponents this week.

Despite such stature, Flora actually reached the playoff round of last season's Europa League, only to lose 3-1 to Omonia's recent conquerors, Dinamo Zagreb.

Formed as recently as 1990, the Estonian side have since claimed a record 13 Meistriliiga titles but have rarely registered at continental level.

Though Jurgen Henn's men advanced to the second qualifying round of this year's Champions League preliminaries courtesy of a five-goal aggregate success over Malta's Hibernians, they were subsequently eliminated by Polish champions Legia Warsaw, so must now try their luck in the second-tier competition.

Already deep into their domestic season - currently sitting second in the table; six points adrift of Levadia but with two games in hand - Henn's side have remained unbeaten in the league for over a year. However, they could only manage a goalless draw at third-placed Paide on Saturday, so will hope to find their shooting boots again before returning to the European stage.

Omonia form (all competitions):
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • D
  • L
  • L

Flora form (all competitions):
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • L
  • L

Team News

Due to their lack of league commitments, Omonia have had a full week to focus on training, while also beating little Olympias Lympia 5-1 in a practice game.

With the rest of Henning Berg's squad expected to be available, only long-term injury victim Ernest Asante - who is currently rehabilitating after rupturing his cruciate ligament - is ruled out.

American veteran Mix Diskerud arrived at the club earlier this summer, and after being handed his first start in Zagreb, looks set to be a mainstay in the Cypriot side's midfield.

Slovakian pair Michal Duris and Tomas Hubocan, plus Adam Lang - who represented Hungary - all featured at the Euros in June, and the latter will team up with Hubocan at the heart of the home side's defence. Meanwhile, Duris is set to support Serbian striker Marko Scepovic in attack - though Marinos Tzionis started last week and is another option for Berg.

The visitors' Rauno Sappinen has hit four goals in as many European games so far, and is expected to be supported by Martin Miller and Konstain Vassiljev from their attacking midfield roles on Thursday.

Flora striker Mark Anders Lepik is still recovering from a long-term injury and misses out again, but Jurgen Henn has few other concerns following their league match at the weekend.

Omonia possible starting lineup:
Fabiano; Abdullahi, Lang, Hubocan, Lecjaks; Diskerud, Gomez, Kousoulos; Bautheac, Scepovic, Duris

Flora possible starting lineup:
Igonen; Lilander, Purg, Kuusk, Lukka; Zenjov, Poom, Vassiljev, Soomets, Miller; Sappinen

We say: Omonia 2-1 Flora

Omonia went so close to making the Champions League last year, before showing well in the Europa League during the autumn, and have the credentials to make this year's playoff round by taking care of Flora.

Though Rauno Sappinen clearly poses a threat on the break, the back-to-back Cypriot champions can capitalise on home advantage this week and take a lead to Talinn next Thursday.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data

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