With little under 11 months until the 27 May final in Warsaw, the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League kicked off on Tuesday.
Three first qualifying round opening legs were played, with Malta's Sliema Wanderers FC drawing 1-1 against Ferencvárosi TC, Irish side Dundalk FC overcoming AS Jeunesse Esch 2-0 in Luxembourg and Macedonian outfit FK Shkëndija 79 holding off FC Zimbru Chisinau 2-1. The remaining 36 first legs are played on Thursday.
Sliema and Ferencváros started the new European club season, and after Dániel Böde tested home goalkeeper Glenn Zammit early on, Wanderers were awarded a 15th-minute penalty when Attila Busai fouled Stefano Bianciardi. Michael Mifsud's spot-kick hit a post, however, before Sliema took the lead on 39 minutes thanks to Stanley Ohawuchi's superb solo effort.
Despite almost adding to their lead several times, the Maltese team will need an away goal in Hungary next week after Michał Nalepa pounced on a Stjepan Kukuruzović free-kick spilt by Zammit with 13 minutes left. Filippo Scozzese struck the woodwork late on for Sliema.
Jeunesse Esch made the second qualifying round last season but face a mighty struggle to do so again after their home loss to Dundalk. The visitors came close twice in the first half and went ahead in the 59th minute, Richie Towell converting a penalty after Adrien Portier had fouled David McMillan. Towell made it two with 19 minutes left and was only denied a hat-trick by a fine Marc Oberweis save.
Shkëndija lost their only previous two previous European ties but could make it third time lucky. After a tight first half, Bojan Vručina put the home team ahead five minutes into added time with a fine free-kick. Early in the second period, summer signing Ivan Mitrov beat two men before scoring from the edge of the box.
Three minutes later, Alexandre Grossu pulled one back for Zimbru from the spot after a foul by Mevljan Murati on Alexandre Dedov. Substitute Gheorge Anton nearly equalised from close range soon after, before Mensur Kurtisi hit a post from distance for Shkëndija nine minutes from time. All three second legs are on Thursday week.
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