By Pavle Gognidze
Skonto FC are all but assured of a place in the second qualifying round and a tie against Trabzonspor after recording a resounding win against Rhyl FC of Wales in Riga.
Latvia striker Mihails Miholaps was the hero, scoring his side's opening two goals in the tenth and 56th minutes. Ignas Dedura and Aleksejs Višnakovs wrapped up the victory and left coach Aleksandrs Starkovs, fresh from his exploits with the national team in Portugal, in upbeat mood. "Of course I am happy with the result, although I can't say the task of qualifying is solved," said Starkovs. "I am sure it will be much tougher in the second leg. I am happy with the quality of our game, and it's not likely that the starting lineup will change for the away game."
The difference in class was evident from the outset, and the first goal came quickly, Miholaps latching on to a pass from Gatis Kalninš before scoring with a precise shot from 13 metres. However, the hosts became unsettled after taking the lead and were lucky not to concede as Gary Powell missed from eight metres on 14 minutes before Marc Limbert went close with a thundering drive six minutes later.
Skonto slowly reasserted themselves, however, and created several chances although Igors Semjonovs, Dedura and Kalninš all lacked composure at the key moment. Starkovs had to be content with a 1-0 lead at half-time and made an attacking change by bringing on young midfielder Kristaps Blanks to replace defender Olegs Blagonadezdins. The decision paid off as Skonto started the second half in aggressive fashion. Blanks hit the woodwork in the 50th minute before Miholaps scored his second six minutes later with a clever finish from close range, despite having his back to goal.
Rhyl realised the size of the task facing them at this point and, on 65 minutes, another goal arrived as Dedura rose to head in a corner by Zurab Menteshashvili. Then, 13 minutes later, Aleksejs Višnakovs completed the scoring with a fine run down the flank and solid finish. The lively Blanks could have increased the margin of victory but hit the crossbar in the dying minutes.