Zenit plot fightback on decision night

UEFA Cup winners in 2008, FC Zenit St. Petersburg head the list of teams with plenty of work to do in Thursday's play-off deciders if they are to claim a place in the inaugural UEFA Europa League.

Zenit were UEFA Cup winners only 15 months ago
Zenit were UEFA Cup winners only 15 months ago ©Getty Images

FC Zenit St. Petersburg lifted the UEFA Cup in Manchester only 15 months ago but they risk being absent when the tournament gets under way in its new guise next month unless they can turn around a first-leg deficit in their play-off against CD Nacional on Thursday.

Recent winners
Other recent winners – holders FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia CF and Galatasaray SK – already have one foot in the group stage but Zenit, still led by caretaker boss Anatoly Davydov after the dismissal of UEFA Cup-winning coach Dick Advocaat, went down 4-3 in Madeira last Thursday. Their second-leg task would have been greater still had Fatih Tekke not reduced the deficit to a single goal in the 93rd minute.

Villa have work to do
Former European champions Aston Villa FC are another team with work to do to make the UEFA Europa League group stage, trailing SK Rapid Wien 1-0 from the first game in Austria. AEK Athens FC and Club Brugge KV are also on the comeback path against SC Vaslui (1-2) and KKS Lech Poznań (0-1) as are Hertha BSC Berlin, beaten 2-1 at Brøndby IF last week. Athletic Club Bilbao, meanwhile, could face a taxing evening at Tromsø IL given they needed two late goals to overcome the Norwegian outfit 3-2 at home.

Second-time lucky?
Some clubs are desperate to avoid a second successive exit from European competition, having already missed out in UEFA Champions League qualifying. FC BATE Borisov visit PFC Litex Lovech eager to make amends for a 1-0 home reverse, while FK Partizan must do better away to MŠK Žilina than they managed in a 1-1 home draw. FC Dinamo Moskva will try to avert a repeat of their home defeat by Celtic FC in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round by building on a first-leg stalemate at PFC CSKA Sofia.

Roma hope
AS Roma will hope home advantage will help them shake off an MFK Košice side who fought back from 3-1 down to draw the teams' first encounter 3-3. Nor is that the only contest still in the balance: it remains all-square in the CFR 1907 Cluj-FK Sarajevo, SC Heerenveen-PAOK FC, FK Austria Wien-FC Metallurh Donetsk and FC Metalist Kharhiv-SK Sturm Graz ties.