Radanfah Abu Bakr is making a name for himself in Lithuania. His FK Suduva club side advanced, two weeks ago, to the play-off round of the UEFA Europa League qualifying phase, the first Lithuanian club ever to go beyond the third round of qualifying in any European club competition.
And the former QRC captain, who now has 36 full international caps for the senior national team, has been a major contributor to the club’s progress, playing every minute of FK Suduva’s six Europa League qualifying matches and even contributing offensively with an assist on one of the eight goals the club has thus far scored.
So far, Suduva have kept three clean sheets and conceded just three goals.
“By God’s permission,” Abu Bakr told Wired868, “we have done extraordinarily well to go this far. Even though we were the unfancied side from the very first round, we believed in ourselves and each other and we have produced some exceptional team performances.”
The club aggregated 2-1 leads over two legs to overcome FK Shakhtyor Salihorsk of Belarus and FK Leipaja of Latvia in the first two rounds. On Wednesday 2 August at the Stade de Genève, FK Suduva drew 1-1 with FC Sion of Switzerland, whom they had beaten by a convincing 3-0 margin in their home leg one week earlier. The final 4-1 aggregate saw them advancing to the play-off round.
Abu Bakr described his team as “cautiously confident.”
“We know the next two will be two very difficult games,” he conceded to Wired868. “We want to continue, Insha’Allah (God willing), to build on what we have done thus far. Once we execute well and keep our concentration throughout, we know we can cause yet another upset.”
The play-off round fixtures are scheduled to take place on August 17 and 24 and the draw was held at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
Everton, where current senior team head coach Dennis Lawrence once coached, are in the mix as are former UEFA Champions League winners AC Milan, Olympique Marseilles and Ajax. Abu Bakr says that they can consider themselves” fortunate” to have avoided these big name clubs but he has no illusions about the serious challenge that awaits them.
They will face Bulgarian champions Ludogorets, a team which boasts no fewer than nine Brazilians on their roster. Last season, they competed in the Champions League group stage and managed to battle to a 2-2 draw in Paris with the highly rated PSG, who eventually advanced to the latter stages of the competition.
Win, lose or draw, Abu Bakr is excited at the prospect of rubbing shoulders with some of the big-name players he is likely to meet before FC Suduva’s run comes to an end. He feels confident that he will emerge from the experience as a better footballer.
“On a personal level,” he ended the brief exchange with Wired868, “I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge of competing against some of the best teams and players in Europe. After all, the Europa League is a high-level competition and every game is fiercely competitive.”