The 2007/08 UEFA Champions League got under way with some intriguing first qualifying round first-leg action across seven ties tonight. Montenegro's debutants FK Zeta were one of three home teams to win while S.S. Murata, San Marino's first entrants, were the only hosting club to lose. Another 14 sides will be in action on Wednesday night, with a total of three qualifying rounds to be played before the group stage begins in September.
FK Zeta 3-1 FBK Kaunas
Zeta are dreaming of a tie with Rangers FC after a resounding victory against their ten-man Lithuanian visitors, who did manage a late away goal. Kaunas were always up against it once Ianko Valkanov was dismissed midway through the first half. Zeta took the lead soon afterwards through Žarko Korać's penalty after Slaven Stjepanović was upended. Barely two minutes later, Janko Tumbašević doubled the advantage with a header and Stjepanović added a third before the hour. Yet Kaunas pulled one back through Givi Kvaratskhelia and they still have a chance in Tuesday's second leg.
S.S. Murata 1-2 Tampere United
A late goal from Jari Niemi, his second of the night, swung the tie firmly in the Finnish visitors' favour and raised hopes of a meeting with PFC Levski Sofia. Murata, the first team to represent San Marino in the competition, boasted FIFA World Cup-winner Aldair, now 41, in their starting lineup and his quality helped them take the lead just before half-time with Cristian Protti's right-foot shot. Murata, who had seen Roberto Teodorani hit the post earlier, were to concede twice in the second half though with Niemi's precise finishing leaving Murata with it all to do a week tomorrow.
The New Saints FC 3-2 FK Ventspils
The Welsh champions secured a historic first European victory when Barry Hogan scored deep into added time. TNS thought they had been denied when Vits Rimkus notched a late equaliser. That was the second time the striker had cancelled out the home side's advantage: Michael Wilde's smart header opened the scoring early on for TNS but the lead only lasted ten minutes before Rimkus struck. The Latvian visitors, making their UEFA Champions League debut, proved spirited opposition and after defender Phil Baker had restored TNS's advantage in the second half they responded again. However, there was no time remaining for a third equaliser following Hogan's fierce strike and TNS will feel hopeful of winning through to meet FC Salzburg after next Wednesday's return.
FK Khazar Lenkoran 1-1 NK Dinamo Zagreb
With a tie against NK Domžale or KF Tirana awaiting the winners after the second leg in Croatia next Tuesday, the Azerbaijani club began with purpose. Zaur Ramazanov was particularly lively and his good work led to a chance for Brazilian attacker Juninho, only for the Brazilian attacker to miss. The hosts took the lead soon after the interval and it was no surprise that it came from Ramazanov following a fine run but parity was quickly restored by Etto. Lenkoran then had to hang on at the end after a red card for captain Emin Guliyev.
APOEL FC 2-0 FC BATE Borisov
APOEL will have the upper hand in the second leg next Tuesday after a fine display on a humid evening in Cyprus. It was the visitors from Belarus that began brighter, Igor Stasevich missing from long range but from then on it was all APOEL. Veteran striker Nikos Machlas spurned three good chances before Chrysostomos Michail finally beat Aleksandr Fedorovich with a well-placed shot from just outside the area. Machlas doubled the lead with a powerful header just after the hour and BATE's misery was complete when defender Anton Sakharov was sent off. The winners will meet either FH Hafnarfjördur or HB Tórshavn.
FC Olimpi Rustavi 0-0 FC Astana
Olimpi were unable to find the net on their competition debut but the Georgian title-holders will still hope to progress to a tie against Rosenborg BK after the return in Kazakhstan next Tuesday. It was the first match in charge for new Olimpi coach Varlam Kilasonia, and he began in attacking vein with two strikers Vladimer Dvalishvili and Jaba Dvali. Astana were resolute though and had goalkeeper Sergei Boichenko in fine form. Gabon striker Baudry Massouanga joined the home attack in the second half but still the visitors held firm, and they nearly snatched a vital away goal through Arsen Tlekhugov late on.
Linfield FC 0-0 IF Elfsborg
Debreceni VSC of Hungary are no closer to learning their opponents in the next round after this close contest in Northern Ireland. Home goalkeeper Alan Mannus made several good saves but was relieved when Fredrik Berglund missed for the Swedish visitors from inside the penalty area. Linfield's best chances fell to midfielder Jamie Mulgrew, with one well-taken header particularly standing out, although his fellow midfielder Paul McAreavey was perhaps the most dynamic on view. The sides meet again on Wednesday week.
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