Europa Conference League predictions: Slovacko could be a surprise package
Matchday five of the Europa Conference League looks set to see a series of qualification issues settled across Europe.
Hearts have a mountain to climb if they are to grab a qualifying place in Group A, but West Ham have already guaranteed their spot in the knockout stages and can advance directly to the last 16 with another point against Silkeborg.
First up, though, an intriguing clash in Group D, where Czech underdogs Slovacko are looking to turn the table on its head in the final two group games as they take on a Bundesliga heavyweight.
Slovacko v Cologne (Thursday, 5.45pm)
Slovacko sit bottom of Group D but are level on points with Cologne and just a point behind Ligue 1 side Nice. They could yet even usurp Partizan and top the section if they win their final two games and results go their way.
That is not impossible as the Czech side have shown up well in all four group games, claiming a point off leaders Partizan and winning away at Nice on matchday four.
They also played well in a 4-2 defeat to Cologne in Germany, looking the better team for large periods but conceding two early goals to corners before working their way back to 2-2 and then giving away a clumsy penalty and conceding on the break late on.
Cologne have won only two of their last 11 away games in all competitions, losing their last two in the Bundesliga 5-2 at Monchengladbach and 5-0 in Mainz, while in Europe losing 2-0 at Partizan and drawing 1-1 in Nice.
Slovacko are no European heavyweights, having never finished higher than fourth in the Czech First League and having only ever appeared in the Intertoto Cup prior to reaching the Europa Conference League qualifying rounds last season.
However, they have a technically proficient side who have played better in Group D than results suggest and they have the quality and motivation to cause a shock against a Cologne side who may have half an eye on their Bundesliga struggles.
Backing Slovacko in the draw no bet market at 6/4 looks a decent option.
Hearts vs Rigas (Thursday, 8pm)
Only victory will do for a Hearts side who must beat Rigas on Thursday then follow up with an unlikely win over Basaksehir in Istanbul – all while hoping that Fiorentina drop points in their final two group games.
However, Hearts have lost 11 of their last 15 matches, winning only three.
Rigas are in a similar situation as they, too, must win this game and follow up with a home win over Fiorentina if they are to have any chance of qualifying. But that is a slightly more realistic ambition as the Latvians drew 1-1 in Florence and held group leaders Basaksehir 0-0 at home.
A highly improbable set of results is needed for either side to progress but Rigas will feel they have a chance as they were unlucky to lose the reverse fixture of this tie in Latvia.
Hearts won it thanks to a fortunate penalty and a 93rd-minute breakaway goal when the hosts were pouring forward, with Riga hitting the post when the scores were still level and then later being denied by an outstanding Craig Gordon save.
This could be a thrilling match as both teams must press forward in search of a winner, so going for over 3.5 goals at 2/1 with LiveScore Bet is a reasonable way to go.
West Ham vs Silkeborg (Thursday, 8pm)
West Ham have proved too good for the rest of Group B, winning all four games including a 3-2 win in Denmark in the reverse fixture.
However, Silkeborg have given as good as they have got in this section, going into the group as the lowest-ranked side but thrashing second seeds FCSB 5-0 both at home and away on matchdays three and four.
Those results have helped the Danes compile a record of scoring in each of their last 10 outings at a rate of 2.6 goals per game.
However, West Ham have won their last five home games, scoring 2.4 goals per game.
Having scored twice in the reverse fixture and hitting a rich seam of goalscoring form since then, Silkeborg have enough attacking quality to make this game interesting – albeit they are still likely to fall short in East London.
The Hammers are in excellent form, winning seven of their last ten games in all competitions and looking particularly impressive on home soil.
David Moyes’ men should be more than capable of getting the result they need to confirm their position as group winners.
However, having conceded in both home wins thus far in Group B, Hammers fans could be set for more of the same against an entertaining Danish outfit. It might, therefore, be an idea to take the 7/4 with LiveScore Bet for a West Ham win and both teams to score.