Bala defy odds, Gefle and Qarabağ in command

Bala Town FC poured scorn on their underdog status by overcoming FC Levadia Tallinn 1-0, while Gefle IF and Qarabağ FK are well-placed to emerge from the first qualifying round.

Action from Xäzär Länkäran's 1-1 first-leg stalemate with Sliema
Action from Xäzär Länkäran's 1-1 first-leg stalemate with Sliema ©Domenic Aquilina

Bala Town FC marked their first foray into European competition by edging out seven-time Estonian champions FC Levadia Tallinn 1-0, while Gefle IF and Qarabağ FK recorded away wins in their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round openers.

Ian Sheridan scored the only goal after four minutes in an end-to-end encounter in north Wales. The forward's instinctive finish may not have been as memorable as its lasting impact on the small village club, yet it became part of Bala folklore at the final whistle. "Tonight will go down in history," said coach Colin Caton. "I was relaxed before the game and that transferred to the lads who were outstanding. It was a fantastic occasion." 

The visitors – left to rue what might have been after passing up a litany of opportunities to test Bala goalkeeper Ashley Morris – can make amends in next Thursday's return fixture in Estonia.

In Tallinn, meanwhile, Gefle exhibited attacking intent from the off and were rewarded when JK Trans Narva defender Aleksandr Dubõkin inadvertently turned in Jens Portin's corner two minutes before the interval. The Swedish team carried their momentum into the second half with Mikael Dahlberg heading in before Jonas Lantto executed a smart run and finish in added time.

Azerbaijan's Qarabağ also hold a first-leg advantage after overcoming FK Metalurg Skopje 1-0 thanks to Reynaldo's close-range finish after 64 minutes. There was nothing to separate Xäzär Länkäran FK and Sliema Wanderers FC in Ta' Qali, however. Visiting forward Nildo França broke the deadlock on 13 minutes but the pendulum swung back in favour of the hosts when Stanley Nka Ohawuchi combined with John Mintoff to score just after the hour.

Xäzär Länkäran were wobbling when defender Elnur Allahverdiyev was dismissed seven minutes from time but held their nerve to leave the tie delicately poised ahead of the 11 July decider.