Derry City has made the daunting trip to Kazakhstan to face FC Tobol in the third qualifying round of the 2023/24 Europa Conference League.
The Candystripes will travel to Kostanay Central Stadium, situated on the banks of the Tobol River in the Northern city of Kostanay.
Ruaidhrí Higgins’s side earned safe passage from the second round of qualification by beating Finland’s KuPS 5-4 over two legs.
Derry came from behind to win the opening tie 2-1 in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium. And held their own in a thrilling 3-3 draw away from home to progress.
FC Tobol was founded in 1967.
Despite this, there’s a surprising lack of documented information on the early years of the club.
They started under the name Avtomobilist and underwent several different name changes throughout the decades, including Khimik.
Avtomobilist and Khimik may be familiar to any ice-hockey aficionado among us. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg replaced Khimik Voskresensk in the Kontinental Hockey League, with both teams operating out of Russia. This lines up as the city of Kostanay was founded by Russian settlers.
The club adopted the name FC Tobol in 1995.
Tobol was involved in the inaugural Kazakhstan Premier League season in 1992. Besides a two-season absence in the late 90s, FC Tobol has been a regular fixture in the Kazakhstani top tier.
They won their first league title in 2010 and stopped the dominance of Astana to reign victorious in 2021.
FC Tobol are 16 games into their current season. They’re sitting in sixth and are 12 points off a lucrative European position.
Tobol made their European debut in the defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2003.
They made their first appearance in a major European competition in the first round of qualification of the 2006/07 UEFA Cup and lost 3-1 on aggregate to FC Basel.
A return to the Intertoto Cup in 2007 brought FC Tobol their biggest continental success. Once again, they made it to the third round of the tournament. This time they got the job done by beating OFI Crete. And earned a slot in the second qualifying round of that year’s UEFA Cup.
They lost out to Poland’s Dyskobolia Grodzisk, but continued to pop up in the UEFA Cup/Europa League playing the likes of Austria Wien, Galatasaray, and Jeunesse Esch.
Tobol has also played four times in the Champions League, losing both ties to Slovan Bratislava, and Ferencvaros.
This clash against Derry City is their first encounter with a League of Ireland side. But, isn’t their first rodeo in the Europa Conference League.
They first appeared in the second round of qualification in 2021, beating Hajduk Split, but were comfortably dispatched off in the next round by Slovakia’s MSK Zilina.
Tobol is on a fantastic run in their current European adventures. They dumped out Finland’s FC Honka in the first qualifying round and followed that up by shockingly eliminating FC Basel, setting themselves on a collision course with Derry City.
Derry City vs FC Tobol
The Candystripes are the only League of Ireland side remaining in Europe and are creeping closer to the group stages and the financial rewards that come with it.
It’s another nightmare draw for Derry for travel, but on-field, the Candystripes are capable of holding their own.
FC Tobol does have a mix of homegrown and foreign talent on their books.
Ramazan Orazov, Serikzhan Muzhikov, Bagdat Kairov, and Samat Zharynbetov are vastly experienced at international level for Kazakhstan.
Serges Deble is a danger man going forward. The former Charlton Athletic player scored twice in Tobol’s tie against FC Basel and is the club’s top goal-scorer with five league goals.
Serbian international Miljan Vukadinovic could potentially cause problems for Derry City’s full-backs. Especially on the left as he can cause problems cutting in on his favoured right foot.
Derry City haven’t played a league game in over a month, but have been cruising through their European and cup duties.
Ruaidhri Higgins has his full squad to choose from, with Cameron Dummigan the only doubt, but could still be ready to go in Kostanay.
Either FC Viktoria Plzen or Gzira United await the winners.
After the exhausting ten hours of travel, Derry will be keen the keep the fixture alive for the return leg in the Brandywell on Thursday, 17th of August.
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