Preview: NK Olimpija Ljubljana vs. Qarabag FK – prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Europa League clash between NK Olimpija Ljubljana and Qarabag FK, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

The Europa League qualifying playoffs get underway on Thursday, with Slovenian side NK Olimpija Ljubljana hosting Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag FK at Stozice Stadium.

Both sides were eliminated from Champions League qualifying earlier this month, with Ljubljana falling to Galatasaray and Qarabag suffering defeat to Rakow Czestochowa.

Match preview

Qarabag coach Gurban Gurbanov before the match on February 16, 2023© Reuters

After clinching their first top-flight title since 2017-18, Ljubljana found themselves in Champions League qualifying at the start of the new campaign, dispatching Valmiera and Ludogorets Razgrad in the early rounds.

However, the Slovenian champions failed to make it past Galatasaray in the third qualifying round, suffering a 4-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of the Turkish giants.

Despite that loss, new manager Joao Henriques has enjoyed a promising start to life at Olimpija, overseeing three victories in four league games, while the Dragons have already scored 13 goals on home soil this term.

Ljubljana head into Thursday’s showdown on the back of a crazy 5-4 win against Aluminij, with Pedro Lucas bagging a brace in last weekend’s nine-goal thriller, so the Green and Whites will back themselves to outscore Qarabag.

Qarabag, meanwhile, snatched a last-gasp victory over Araz-Naxcivan last time out, with former Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield Town winger Adama Diakhaby opening the scoring before Abdellah Zoubir‘s 95th-minute winner.

The Horsemen have now won two of their three league matches this season, setting themselves up for yet another title charge, having won nine of the previous 10 top-flight titles in Azerbaijan.

Like Ljubljana, Qarabag started the season in Champions League qualifying but failed to make it past the second round, crushing Lincoln Red Imps 6-1 on aggregate before suffering a 4-3 aggregate defeat against Polish club Rakow Czestochowa.

The Blue and Whites then dropped into Europa League qualifying, knocking out HJK Helsinki to book their place in the playoffs, so Gurban Gurbanov and his players will be eager to secure European football.

NK Olimpija Ljubljana form (all competitions):

Qarabag FK Europa League form:

Qarabag FK form (all competitions):

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Team News

Qarabag's Leandro Andrade celebrates scoring their first goal with the bench on February 16, 2023© Reuters

Having already netted five goals in 10 appearances this season, Portuguese striker Rui Pedro will partner Brazilian forward Pedro Lucas in the hosts’ forward line on Thursday.

Joao Henriques is expected to stick with his favoured 3-5-2 formation, meaning that defenders Mateo Karamatic, Ahmet Muhamedbegovic and Marcel Ratnik will start in front of goalkeeper Matevz Vidovsek.

While Ljubljana have no injury problems ahead of the first leg, Qarabag look set to be without injured pair Marko Vesovic and Abbas Huseynov for the trip to Slovenia.

Gurban Gurbanov will likely opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Albanian striker Redon Xhixha leading the line, while Julio Romao and Marko Jankovic are expected to anchor the midfield.

NK Olimpija Ljubljana possible starting lineup:
Vidovsek, Karamatic, Muhamedbegovic, Ratnik; Silva, Gavric, Seslar, Posavec, Krefl; Pedro, Lucas

Qarabag FK possible starting lineup:
Mahammadaliyev; Bayramov, Mustafazada, Medina, Cafarquliyev; Romao, Jankovic; Andrade, Benzia, Zoubir; Xhixha

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We say: NK Olimpija Ljubljana 1-1 Qarabag FK

Given that the first leg will likely be a tense and cagey encounter, we expect Olimpija and Qarabag to play out a low-scoring stalemate on Thursday, with both teams approaching the contest with caution.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at are predicting over 1.5 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.Over 1.5:data

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