The Inchicore side emerged as narrow victors over IBV in the last round and will face a step up in quality against the runners-up in the Bosnian Premier LeagueCOMMENT
By Ronan Murphy
|SPOTLIGHT: NK ŠIROKI BRIJEG
|NK Široki Brijeg are a relatively new force. Before independence, they were playing in the lower tiers of Yugoslav football. After the establishment of Bosnian Premier League they flourished, winning two titles and finishing second four times, including last season.
Manager Marijan Bloudek took control in March and reached the cup final, qualifed for Europe and lost only two matches along the way.
Široki looked very solid in the defence last season, conceding only 17 goals in 30 matches, but efficiency up front was the problem.
Their key player is Dalibor Šilić, captain and former Bosnia international, but he is suspended for the first leg. Nonetheless, Široki have a high-quality squad, with a good blend of experience and youth.
They were also very active during the transfer period, strengthening with couple of well-known names like Damir Džidić, Davor Landeka, currently injured, and Krešimir Kordić. The presence of former Croatia internationals, like Vedran Ješe, and South American trio Wagner, Baiano and Varea gives a decent squad in Bosnian terms.
However, the league is still one of the weakest in Europe so question marks remain over Siroki's pedigree in continental competition.
This will be their first encounter of the season as the league starts on August 4, so this team is more or less unsettled.
What is certain is the weather; expect a very hot night in Siroki.
An away goal saw St Patrick's Athletic progress to the Second Qualifying Round of the Europa League, and after knocking out Icelandic side Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja for the second year in a row, the Dubliners will face Bosnian Premier League runners-up NK Široki Brijeg as they attempt to reach the Third Qualifying Round in successive seasons.
Coach Liam Buckley is an experienced name in League of Ireland football, having won the league title as both player and manager with Shamrock Rovers and Pat's, and has the backing of most of the club's fans.
The Inchicore side currently sit in third place in the Airtricity Premier Division, and have only lost twice in 16 league games. Buckley has made Europe his main aim, and a much-changed side saw Drogheda United take the spoils at the weekend to move up to second at the expense of the Saints.
Buckley's 4-5-1 gives solidity in defence, something which helped the club hold on to progress in extra time against IBV, with 28-year-old defender Ger O'Brien adding experience at right-back since signing from Bohemians.
Two other Bohs signings have also been central to Saints' success, with forwards Christy Fagan and Chris Forrester providing 11 and five goals respectively so far this season.
Fagan's first-half goal gave Pat's a 1-0 win at Richmond Park in the first leg against IBV, and the 23-year-old has quickly become a fan favourite in Dublin 8.
Buckley has also made a number of other key signings, which helps ease the absence of striker Danny North, with Jake Kelly, John Russell, and James Chambers all helping pull the strings to support Fagan in a 4-5-1 formation which becomes a 4-3-3 when attacking.
Buckley has done his homework on his opponents, but knows they will prove a much more difficult prospect than IBV.
"Široki Brijeg are a good side, they’ve either won or finished runners-up in their domestic league and cup for the past few years," he told stpatsfc.com.
"We’ve seen a few DVDs of them from league games and from the cup final they played in last season, so we know it’ll be a tough game but it’s one we’re looking forward to."