Contenders hoping to clear second round hurdles
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Several of this week's second qualifying round ties still hang in the balance, with Linfield FC setting out to frustrate FC BATE Borisov yet again and four sides defending one-goal leads.
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If Maccabi Haifa FC, Rosenborg BK, FC Viktoria Plzeň and FK Partizan are all but through to the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round following convincing first-leg victories, several of this week's ties still hang in the balance, with four sides aiming hoping to successfully defend slender one-goal leads in their return matches.
A total of 18 goals were shared out by Maccabi Haifa, Rosenborg, Viktoria Plzeň and Partizan last week as the Israeli and Norwegian champions plundered five apiece in their respective victories against FK Borac Banja Luka and Breidablik, while their Czech and Serbian counterparts put four past FC Pyunik and FK Skendija 79.
It was not all one-way traffic in the opening assignments, though, as five ties remain particularly evenly poised. The closest of all involves Linfield FC and FC BATE Borisov after the pair recorded the only draw of the round so far, a 1-1 stalemate in Belfast. Matching opponents who held Juventus twice during the 2008/09 group stage and reached the UEFA Europa League round of 32 last term was an achievement in itself, but Linfield's Daryl Fordyce will be looking to make headlines again on Tuesday after registering on his debut in the first leg.
South of the border, there was even greater cause for celebration as Shamrock Rovers FC managed to hold out for a 1-0 win against FC Flora Tallinn in Dublin. The Irish champions will hope that goalkeeper Alan Mannus can maintain his fine form, as his penalty save from Valeri Minkenen, which preceded Chris Turner's goal by a minute, was instrumental in the home win.
Three other ties are similarly closely matched, although Wisła Kraków, PFC Litex Lovech and FK Ekranas have home contests to look forward to following respective 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 away wins at Skonto FC, FK Mogren and Valletta FC.
Finally, there are five sides who are about to test the adage that 2-0 is the most fragile half-time lead to defend. NK Maribor, ŠK Slovan Bratislava, Malmö FF, APOEL FC and SK Sturm Graz all find themselves in exactly that position after 90 minutes.
Their opponents will be hoping those sides have been distracted by Friday's third qualifying round draw, with Malmö sporting director Per Ågren already looking forward to a "tough but fun" tie against Rangers FC. HB Tórshavn will be aiming to ensure that it will be they instead who get to enjoy a trip to Glasgow on 26/27 July.