FC Sheriff Tiraspol 2-1 FC Zhenis Astana
A late penalty from Vazha Tarkhnishvili gave FC Sheriff Tiraspol a narrow first-leg victory over FC Zhenis Astana, who were playing their first European game since Kazakhstan became UEFA's newest member association.
Because of heavy rain in Tiraspol, Sheriff had to ditch plans for a ceremony to mark the opening of their new home stadium. However, Sheriff still found cause to celebrate as the win put them on course to face Grazer AK of Austria in the second qualifying round.
Already miserable as a result of the wet weather, the home fans were left in even more sombre mood early on after they witnessed a bright start from the Kazakh champions. That despondency was enhanced when Zhenis took the lead on just eight minutes.
Alexey Klishin ran down the left wing to find Evgeni Lovtchev in the Sheriff box, and the Russian forward was on target to put Zhenis in the lead. With the hosts nervous in the damp conditions, the visitors spurned several other good opportunities to take a stranglehold.
The Moldovan side grew in confidence as time went on but Eugen Patula and Vadim Boret wasted several good opportunities in front of David Loria's goal. Yet Zhenis, who had begun with a well-organised defence, tired as the second half wore on and a Sheriff goal was on the cards.
On 57 minutes, Boret's free-kick found the head of Iurii Priganiuc in the area, and the defender finally put Sheriff back on level terms. Twenty minutes later, Ruslan Barburos's effort beat Loria only to hit the post, but Sheriff were not to be denied. Andriy Nesteruk was brought down by Loria in the box, and home captain Vazha Tarkhnishvili stepped up to seal an important triumph for the Moldovan champions.
Fomichev still hoping
"It was an even game, and it should have been a draw so I am obviously disappointed," Zhenis coach Vladimir Fomichev said. "But we will analyse our mistakes and come up with a strategy for the return leg."
Sheriff coach Pele-Gavril Balint said: "We won this very tough game, however, I think our play was affected by heavy rain. I'll put it this way - we had two opponents today: the pitch and a well-organised and disciplined team up against us."