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Outsiders hoping to spring a surprise

Juventus and Liverpool FC are well placed to reach the play-offs but a number of lesser lights will also hope to get there after impressive first-leg results left some upsets on the cards.

Sibir Novosibirsk were one of the unlikely headline acts in the third qualifying round first legs
Sibir Novosibirsk were one of the unlikely headline acts in the third qualifying round first legs ©Alexey Ignatovich

If Liverpool FC and Juventus are well placed to reach the UEFA Europa League play-offs, a number of the competition's lesser lights will be quietly confident of joining them there after the third qualifying round concludes.

While Liverpool and Juventus were comfortable 2-0 victors at FK Rabotnicki and Shamrock Rovers FC respectively, elsewhere the likes of FC Viktoria Plzeň, OFK Beograd and FK Qarabağ struck a blow for the underdog which positions them nicely for Thursday's second legs.

OFK scored twice in the last ten minutes to earn an unexpected 2-2 draw away to Galatasaray AŞ and coach Dejan Djurdjević predicts a big night in Belgrade for the return. "We have a great base for the second leg and believe our supporters in Belgrade will enjoy themselves on Thursday," he said. "We did a great thing for Serbian football."

Galatasaray were hardly the only fancied side licking their wounds after a series of first-leg surprises. Former European champions FK Crvena Zvezda have it all to do in the Slovakian capital after losing 2-1 at home to ŠK Slovan Bratislava. Ukrainian Premier-Liha pacesetters FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk also play catch-up following a 2-1 defeat at Serbian newcomers FK Spartak Zlatibor Voda, and 12-time Polish champions Wisła Kraków will travel to Azerbaijan's Qarabağ with a 1-0 deficit.

Russian debutants FC Sibir Novosibirsk take a 1-0 lead to Apollon Limassol FC after their European bow, while Czech club Viktoria Plzeň held Beşiktaş JK 1-1 in only their second continental tie. Beşiktaş coach Bernd Schuster will demand an improvement: "The draw gives us an advantage because we'll be at home in front of our fans for the second leg. I believe we'll be better then."

Other big names involved in the third qualifying round can prepare for Thursday's denouement with high expectations of making the cut, with Sporting Clube de Portugal, VfB Stuttgart, Olympiacos FC and AZ Alkmaar among the first-leg winners.

For others, a place in the play-offs may seem an impossible dream yet, as Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O'Neill points out, there is much to gain even in defeat. "We'll go to Turin and try to learn from the experience," he said in anticipation of a second leg at Juventus. "We want to make sure we do ourselves justice. We have to be realistic, but we have to try and give a good performance, approach it in a cautious manner and try to score some goals."

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