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History-makers await Europa League destiny

After famous first-leg wins, Bala Town FC, Linfield FC and AS Jeunesse Esch will look to keep that momentum going in their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round deciders.

Jeunesse Esch's Chu Wang was on target in their first-leg win
Jeunesse Esch's Chu Wang was on target in their first-leg win ©Fern Konnen

After registering famous first-leg wins, Bala Town FC, Linfield FC and AS Jeunesse Esch must hold their nerve for a second time to emerge from the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round, which concludes on Thursday.

Bala's historic triumph at the expense of FC Levadia Tallinn gave hope to the competition's less illustrious sides. Making their first foray into European territory, the Welsh part-timers could have been forgiven a hint of trepidation. There was not a glimmer, however, as they beat the seven-time Estonian champions courtesy of Ian Sheridan's instinctive finish after four minutes.

"We're in the driving seat now," said ebullient manager Colin Caton ahead of the decider in Tallinn. "If we get an early goal over there I think the tie will be done and dusted. We only had eight days to prepare for the game once the draw was done, so now that we know them we'll be able to set up maybe a little bit different, and we'll be better prepared."

The European aspirations of Welsh Premier League counterparts Airbus UK Broughton FC also remain intact following a 1-1 stalemate with Latvia's FK Ventspils. "We've given ourselves a chance and that's all we wanted," said manager Andy Preece, whose team conjured an 80th-minute equaliser in Wrexham courtesy of forward Chris Budrys.

Linfield FC, comparative veterans in UEFA competition terms, claimed their first away win in Europe since 1966 – 2-0 at ÍF Fuglafjørdur on Wednesday. Long-serving tactician David Jeffrey is nonetheless staying grounded. "It is only half-time and we have to concentrate on finishing the job," the 50-year-old warned. 

Meanwhile, unfancied Jeunesse Esch also added weight to the adage that 'every underdog has its day' – goals from defender Khalid Benichou and former FC Metz academy player Chu Wang sealing a 2-0 home success against Finland's TPS Turku.

The Luxembourger Cup holders, whose last continental victory came nine years ago, are in healthy position to progress through a UEFA tie for the first time since overcoming another Finnish team, FC Haka, in the 1963/64 European Champion Clubs' Cup preliminary round.