Teams in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round may have been forgiven a little rustiness when their campaigns began on 14 July. Now there are no excuses for underperforming as some big names' hopes of a lengthy continental excursion hang in the balance going into Thursday's second-leg matches.
Traditional Hungarian powerhouses Ferencvárosi TC are on the brink of an early exit after losing 2-0 at home to FC MTZ-RIPO Minsk. Ferencváros travel to Belarus knowing anything less than a two-goal win will see perhaps the most famous club in the first qualifying round tumble out.
Esbjerg in trouble
UEFA's Fair Play draw handed Esbjerg fB of Denmark an unexpected route into the UEFA Cup, but their challenge could be short-lived unless they get their act together against Estonian side FC Flora. A last-minute Fredrik Berglund strike offered a glimmer of hope in the first leg, but the Danish team must still overturn a 2-1 deficit in Tallinn to progress.
Comfort zone for Mainz
Coach Jürgen Klopp has the luxury of being able to blood some youngsters after watching his 1. FSV Mainz 05 side defeat FC MIKA 4-0 in Germany a fortnight ago. An astonishing turnaround is surely beyond the Armenian side.
FC Lokomotiv Tbilisi have work to do after conceding two late goals to FC Banants in Armenia. They lead 3-2 going into the home leg in Georgia, but could face some nervy moments if the visitors again show their counterattacking ability. The tie between Slovakian Superleague runners-up MŠK Žilina and Azerbaijani Cup winners FK Baku looks perfectly poised, with Žilina trailing 1-0 but with home advantage to come.
Lithuania's FK Ekranas will hope for a marked improvement in their battle of league leaders against Cork City FC of the Republic of Ireland. Ekranas have a mountain to climb after losing the first leg 2-0 on home soil. Former Norwegian international Egil Østenstad scored in Viking FK's 2-1 triumph at Portadown FC, and will be looking to repeat the trick when the Northern Irish outfit visit Norway tonight.
The second qualifying round draw, involving 62 clubs, takes place in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday 29 July at 14.00CET. Besiktas JK, former European champions FK Crvena Zvezda and FK Austria Wien will be among the new names in the hat.
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