PFC CSKA Moskva, FC Porto, BV Borussia Dortmund, Villarreal CF and Bayer 04 Leverkusen took major steps towards the group stage in Thursday's UEFA Europa League play-off openers, but Sporting Clube de Portugal, Liverpool FC, Galatasaray AŞ and PSV Eindhoven have concerns ahead of the return fixtures.
UEFA Champions League regulars FC Porto won 3-0 at KRC Genk, Dortmund flattened Azerbaijani upstarts Qarabağ FK 4-0, while it is hard to imagine CSKA Moskva not making it through after the Army Men hit four without reply past Anorthosis Famagusta FC despite Vágner Love missing a late penalty. Coach Leonid Slutskiy is not taking his foot off the gas, though, saying: "We will have to play that well in the second leg, too."
In the last game of the night, Villarreal CF trounced FC Dnepr Mogilev 5-0, while Bayer 04 Leverkusen also look to be home and dry following an emotional night at the BayArena. Germany midfielder Michael Ballack enjoyed an encouraging return to the club where he made his name from 1999-2002, having rejoined Leverkusen from Chelsea FC in the summer. Coming on at half-time to delighted chants of "Micha is back", the 33-year-old's late penalty completed a 3-0 home victory against SC Tavriya Simferopol.
Martin Harnik's late header gave Leverkusen's Bundesliga rivals VfB Stuttgart a 1-0 victory at ŠK Slovan Bratislava, though boss Christian Gross said: "The home leg will be tough; we are not flying off into the sky yet." KKS Lech Poznań will also look to keep their feet on the ground following a one-goal success at Ukrainian Premier League high-fliers FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. A late Amauri header, meanwhile, helped Juventus prevail 2-1 at SK Sturm Graz.
Mario Balotelli registered in his first game since arriving from FC Internazionale Milano as Manchester City FC left FC Timişoara clutching a 1-0 lead. However, while Liverpool won by the same margin at home to Trabzonspor AŞ, Ryan Babel's winner was somewhat overshadowed by a Joe Cole penalty miss, which followed the former Chelsea man's dismissal on his Premier League debut for the Reds on Sunday.
The evening began with something of an upset, substitute Aleksandr Degtyarev striking the only goal of the game at the death as FC Sibir Novosibirsk overcame PSV. Delighted home coach Igor Kriushenko said: "I have to congratulate my players and thank them; they gave all they had.
We were lucky in the end, but the luck is always with the team that wants it more."
Kriushenko's old club, FC BATE Borisov, cruised towards a second successive group stage campaign by beating CS Marítimo 3-0 while HNK Hajduk Split recovered from a goal down to beat FC Unirea Urziceni 4-1, Senijad Ibričić scoring twice. Sporting, meanwhile, have more serious problems having lost 2-0 at home to Brøndby IF, Jan Kristiansen finishing off a flowing counterattack and Ousman Jallow striking after the latter's shot was saved. Galatasaray AŞ also found themselves 2-0 down at home against FC Karpaty Lviv, but substitute Milan Baroš restored parity with two efforts after the break in Istanbul.
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