Serbian titleholders FK Partizan had an uncomfortable afternoon against FC Shirak in Armenia but thanks to a stoppage-time equaliser from defender Vladimir Volkov will return to Belgrade with their UEFA Champions League hopes intact.
Partizan, who survived several scares in the first half, had trailed to a 48th-minute goal from Davit Hakobyan as Vardan Bichakhchyan's hosts more than matched their better-known opponents. However, Volkov's intervention means Partizan will go into the second leg next Wednesday as favourites to reach the third qualifying round.
For Shirak, there will be some regret at their failure to capitalise on several clear scoring opportunities. The first arrived just after the half-hour when Ismaël Fofana's pass sent Dame Diop racing through but, despite two bites at the cherry, he failed to get the better of goalkeeper Milan Lukač. Ivorian forward Fofana went close twice subsequently, seeing one header blocked by Vojislav Stanković and then nodding wide from just six metres out shortly before the break.
After those misses, Shirak finally made a chance count early in the second half through Hakobyan, who scored on the rebound after Lukač had saved from Fofana following a cross by Andranik Barikyan. But after the goalscorer squandered an invitation to double the lead, that proved the cue for the visitors to rally.
Artur Harutyunyan kept out a Stanković header with five minutes remaining as Partizan finally put the home defence under pressure and it paid off with Volkov's goal, the left-back concluding a neat passing move with a precise first-time finish across Harutyunyan and into the far corner. "I can be satisfied only with the final result and I expect that we will be better in second leg," said Partizan coach Vuk Rašovic, who was not helped by the absence of centre-back Ivan Ivanov.
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