Europa Conference League predictions: Dundee United face Dutch test
The long road to the group stage of the Europa Conference League continues on Thursday with 28 first-leg ties taking place in the third qualifying round.
Scottish Premiership outfit Dundee United are among those in action with a home tie against AZ Alkmaar.
There are two Irish representatives still involved, with Sligo Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic set to face Viking and CSKA Sofia respectively.
Of the more recognisable names, Young Boys, Panathinakos, Anderlecht, Basel and Twente will also be attempting to secure positive results.
Slavia Prague vs Panathinaikos (Thursday, 6pm BST)
Slavia Prague reached the quarter-finals of this competition last season but they were unable to get beyond eventual finalists Feyenoord.
Greek side Panathinaikos, who were Champions League semi-finalists back in 1996, have not been involved in Europe since 2017-18 when they reached the play-off round in the Europa League.
Slavia Prague defeated St Joseph's 11-0 in the second qualifying round, but they were brought crashing back down to earth courtesy of a 1-0 loss in their domestic league opener against Hradec Kralove on Sunday.
Panathinaikos have a history of struggling on the road in Europe and they have won just two of their last six competitve away matches, suggesting they could find it tough to pick up a result in this first leg.
It is unlikely that Slavia Prague will brush Panathinaikos aside in the same manner they did with St Joseph's. However, they are still fancied to earn a positive result in this first leg due to their strong reputation on home soil.
Slavia, who have won nine of their last 12 competitive home games, avoided defeat in seven of their eight outings in Europe last season, with the only exception coming against Feyenoord.
Cukaricki vs Twente (Thursday, 7pm BST)
Cukaricki are well underway with their European campaign, beating Racing Luxembourg in the second qualifying round of the Europa Conference League, while they sit third in the Serbian Super Liga after four games played.
Twente are yet to play competitively this season but they avoided defeat during their pre-season campaign, winning four and drawing one of their friendlies.
This will be the first meeting between the two clubs with Cukaricki looking to go beyond the third qualifying round of a European competition for the first time since 1997, when they reached the group stage of the Intertoto Cup.
Twente are more experienced in Europe, having featured regularly in qualifying rounds of the Champions League in the 2010s.
The Dutch club lost just six of their 34 Eredivisie outings last season, with only four of their away engagements ending in defeat — and they will be hoping to uphold those high standards when they travel to Belgrade.
Cukaricki stormed to an 8-1 aggregate win in the previous round against Racing Union Luxembourg, but Twente are undoubtedly a major step up in opposition.
Twente's success last term was largely down to the scoring exploits of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who netted 17 goals across all competitions — and he will be eager to open his account here.
Dundee United vs AZ Alkmaar (Thursday, 8pm BST)
Dundee United are back in Europe for the first time since 2012-13 when they made it to the third round of qualifying in the Europa League.
Standing in their way on Thursday are Eredivisie outfit AZ Alkmaar, who earned a comprehensive 5-0 aggregate win over Tuzla City in the previous round.
Dundee United, who finished fourth in the Premiership last season, started their 2022-23 domestic campaign with a draw at Kilmarnock on Saturday.
Alkmaar, meanwhile, are yet to kick off their Eredivisie commitments but they enjoyed a positive pre-season and made easy work of Tuzla City, who hail from Bosnia & Herzegovina, in the previous round.
The Dutch club made it through to the last-16 of the competition last season, eventually losing to Bodo/Glimt, so they understandably have their sights set on the group stage.
Kaaskoppen lost to Celtic in the Europa League play-off round last season but will fancy their chances against Dundee United.
After dropping into the Conference League in 2021-22, Alkmaar avoided defeat in their three away matches in the group stage, winning one and drawing two.
Midfielder Dani de Wit could be crucial to their hopes of earning a positive result after netting in each of their victories over Tuzla City in the previous round.