Club Brugge KV, AC Sparta Praha, FC Dynamo Kyiv and Boavista FC all lived up to their top billing in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round tonight.
The European heavyweights recorded convincing first-leg victories to all but book their place in the third qualifying round and move a step closer to the prestigious first group stage. In all 14 matches were played tonight, with the only major upset coming in Norway, where Lillestrøm SK were beaten 1-0 by NK Zeljeznicar from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In Belgium, Brugge had one of the tricky tasks of the evening against Romanian champions FC Dinamo Bucuresti. Andrés Mendoza ensured it was a good night for the Belgian runners-up by scoring twice in a 3-1 win, although a late away goal for the visitors will give them some hope in the return next week.
Sparta, who reached the second group stage last year, cruised to a 3-0 home victory against FC Torpedo Kutaisi of Georgia. Their hero was Miroslav Baránek, who has just returned to Sparta after two years in Germany with 1. FC Köln. He hit two goals and the win was completed by Michal Pospísil's late strike.
Dynamo enjoyed a winning start to what they hope will be a long Champions League campaign as they brushed aside Armenian champions FC Pyunik 4-0 in Ukraine. After scoring once in the first half, Dynamo took advantage of Pyunik having Jose André Bilibio dismissed midway through the second period and ran in three more goals.
There was also a resounding 4-0 scoreline in Boavista FC's favour in Porto. The 2000/01 Portuguese champions were never in trouble against Maltese title-holders Hibernians FC with Silva, who scored twice, standing out.
Zeljeznicar produced the shock of the night by winning at Lillestrøm to move a step closer to a dream tie against Newcastle United FC. With the home side unable to hold on to the ball, the visitors took charge in the second half and wrested the initiative. With 49 minutes played, Almir Gredic scored the only goal of the match when he met a left-wing cross with a neat close-range finish.
There was almost a shock in nearby Denmark, where Albanian title-holders KS Dinamo Tirana looked all set to record a famous 0-0 draw against Danish champions Brøndby IF. A last-gasp goal from Ruben Bagger broke the visitors' hearts just seconds before the final whistle.
Big guns waiting
Tonight's action was also of particular interest to some of Europe's biggest clubs who enter in the next round. FC Barcelona await the winners of FK Vardar and Legia Warszawa, with the Catalan club likely to face Legia after the Polish team's 3-1 victory in F.Y.R. Macedonia. Manchester United FC, however, are no closer to knowing their opponents after Hungarian champions Zalaegerszegi TE and Croatia's NK Zagreb drew 1-1.
Elsewhere in tonight's first legs, Maccabi Haifa of Israel comfortably disposed of Belarussian side FC Belshina Bobruisk 4-0 in a match played in Cyprus. Slovenian champions NK Maribor saw off Cypriot team APOEL Nicosia FC 2-1 and Grazer AK of Austria won 4-1 at FC Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova.
All to play for
MŠK Zilina of Slovakia were held 1-1 at home by Swiss champions FC Basel, as were Hammarby IF FF of Sweden against visiting Yugoslavian team FK Partizan. Finally, FC Skonto of Latvia and Bulgarian challengers PFC Levski Sofia played out a goalless draw in Riga.
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