Slovenian champions Olimpija Ljubljana are striving to win a Champions League tie for the first time and they have a 2-1 lead to defend when they head to the Baltic to take on Latvian side Valmiera in the second leg of their first qualifying round clash on Wednesday (16:00).
Olimpija Ljubljana were dominant for the vast majority of last Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Valmiera in the Slovenian capital and look solid favourites to wrap up a swift double over their Latvian opponents.
The opening leg was a largely one-sided affair and Olimpija’s dominance was rewarded by goals from Mustafa Nukic and Rui Pedro which appeared to put them in total control of the tie.
Valmiera kept on plugging away and seized a lifeline in the 87th minute when Senegalese midfielder Meissa Diop headed home from close range.
Valmiera were much happier with the outcome having lost the shot count 12 to three, but they will have to come out of their shell on home soil and that should afford ample opportunities for the Dragons to kill off the tie.
Olimpija’s strong performance in the opening leg was to be expected. There was a Slovenian presence in the Champions League group stage in the 2014/15 and 2017/18 seasons with NK Maribor representing the nation on both occasions, and Olimpija will be hoping to follow in Maribor’s footsteps by forging a passage through qualifying.
They won a fairly closely contested title race last season – finishing six points ahead of second-placed Celje – and have strengthened in preparation for their Champions League return.
While Olimpija, under Portuguese head coach Joao Henriques, look like a club on the up, Valmiera have been on the slide since winning the Latvian title in 2022.
Their league title success broke new ground for a club which was only formed in 1996, and it was a well deserved triumph with 85 points amassed from 36 games and 101 goals scored.
However, Valmiera’s title victory caught the attention of other clubs and key player departures included 24-goal top scorer Raimonds Krollis, who switched to Italian top flight side Spezia.
The club’s performances and results have dipped significantly this season and they sit third in the standings, 21 points behind leaders Riga FC.
Valmiera have suffered six defeats in their poor quality domestic league and that does not augur well for their chances of coping with much higher level European competition.
The adjustment has been much simpler for the Slovenian champions, who are used to playing better opposition on a weekly basis.
Olimpija were disadvantaged by coming into the tie in the middle of their domestic off-season but their fitness levels were decent last week and they should be even stronger for the return match which should yield another positive outcome.