It is crunch time for a number of big names as the UEFA Europa League play-offs conclude on Thursday.
While the likes of Swansea City AFC, Tottenham Hotspur FC, FC Salzburg and Sevilla FC hold commanding first-leg leads following the 22 August openers, Feyenoord, Udinese Calcio, AS Saint-Étienne and VfB Stuttgart must overturn deficits if they are to make the group stage.
FC Slovan Liberec registered perhaps the most eye-catching first-leg victory, triumphing 3-1 at Udinese. It is a result that leaves Zebrette coach Francesco Guidolin facing a play-off defeat for the third successive season, having fallen in the UEFA Champions League for the past two years.
"It is our fault, so we must not talk about bad luck," Guidolin said of last Thursday's upset in Trieste. "On 29 August, we have to achieve something extraordinary, making zero mistakes and creating many scoring opportunities. It will take a super performance."
After losing their first three Eredivisie games, things got no better for Feyenoord as they fell 1-0 to FC Kuban Krasnodar, but at least they have home advantage in the second leg. "We have seen that Krasnodar have a quality team," said coach Ronald Koeman. "On the other hand, we play next week at home with the support of our fans. We are not in a good position, but in a swirling De Kuip anything is possible."
A late Vedad Ibišević strike at HNK Rijeka improved Stuttgart's chances of progressing, but they must still overcome a 2-1 deficit. "The goal gives us hope and if we can keep a clean sheet then I am positive," said captain Christian Gentner.
Denmark's Esbjerg fB came from behind three times to defeat St-Etienne and take a 4-3 lead to France. "We can settle for a draw in the return match, but it will be extremely difficult," said coach Niels Frederiksen, with opposite number Christophe Galtier remaining positive. "There is a rematch and a chance to correct what went wrong."
There are a number of ties delicately balanced, with FC St Gallen-FC Spartak Moskva, IF Elfsborg-FC Nordsjælland and SV Zulte Waregem-APOEL FC having all ended 1-1 last week. Elfsborg coach Jörgen Lennartsson's opinion that "small margins will decide things" applies to all three second legs.
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