The 2002/03 UEFA Champions League began in fine style tonight with the champions of Latvia, Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina among the first to taste success in this season's competition.
FC Skonto, FC Pyunik and FK Zeljeznicar finished with impressive victories from their first-leg ties in the first qualifying round. Skonto were the biggest winners, recording a 5-0 triumph against Barry Town AFC of Wales. The success included a stunning goal from the halfway line by Mihails Zemlinskis. Meanwhile, Pyunik were surprise 4-0 victors against Tampere United FC of Finland and Zeljeznicar saw off Icelandic team ÍA Akranes 3-0 for their first win in the Champions League.
There was drama in Moldova as FC Sheriff Tiraspol scored late on to make it a disappointing night for FC Zhenis Astana, the first side from Kazakhstan, UEFA's newest member association, to take part in a European club competition. Zhenis had a dream start when Yevgeniy Lovtchev put them in front after just eight minutes but the hosts battled back and snatched a late 2-1 victory courtesy of Vaja Tarknishvili's 87th-minute penalty.
Qorri the hero
KS Dinamo Tirana of Albania fought back from two goals down to win 3-2 at Lithuanian side FBK Kaunas. A first-half double from Andrius Velicka had put Kaunas on top but Ilir Qorri was the hero for the visitors, hitting the winner with 14 minutes to play.
Republic of Ireland champions Shelbourne FC had to rely on Jim Gannon's second-half strike for a 2-2 away draw against Maltese side Hibernians FC. The two away goals mean the Irish side will be favourites to progress. Northern Ireland's Portadown FC finished with a 0-0 home draw against FC Belshina Bobruisk of Belarus. Belshina will be confident of victory in the return leg at home, with Israeli outfit Maccabi Haifa awaiting the winners. Another match to finish goalless was the encounter in Tallinn between Estonia's FC Flora and Cypriot contenders APOEL Nicosia FC.
Elsewhere, two goals from striker Malkhaz Asatiani helped Georgia's FC Torpedo Kutaisi earn a comfortable 5-2 home victory over B36 Tórshavn of the Faroe Islands. Torpedo are now almost certain of facing AC Sparta Praha, who reached last season's second group stage, in the next round. Finally, CS Stade Dudelange of Luxembourg were held 1-1 at home by FK Vardar of F.Y.R. Macedonia.
Three qualifying rounds
In all 20 teams have entered the competition at this stage, the first of three qualifying rounds before the first group stage begins on 17 September. The second-leg ties will all take place next Wednesday.
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