By Spiros Sideris
The first leg of the 32 knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League started on Thursday. The Balkans were represented by Trabzonspor from Turkey, PAOK FC from Greece, Ludogorets from Bulgaria and Maribor from Slovenia.
Lazio – PFC Ludogorets Razgrad 0-1
A fine goal from Roman Bezjak settled a dramatic contest in Rome containing two red cards and as many spurned penalties.
The Bulgarian champions came close to scoring ten minutes before the break when Marcelinho’s speculative 30-metre drive bounced back off the crossbar. The goal Stoicho Stoev’s side managed to score soon after, however, as Bezjak sent a venomous 30-metre strike swerving beyond the outstretched fingertips of Berisha.
Both teams finished with ten men as PFC Ludogorets Razgrad consigned SS Lazio to a 1-0 UEFA Europa League round of 32 first-leg loss in Rome.
Ludogorets will be delighted with the much deserved result that puts them in poll position for progressing to the next round.
PAOK Thessaloniki FC – Benfica 0-1
A predatory finish from Brazilian striker Lima proved sufficient for SL Benfica to beat PAOK FC 1-0 in their UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg. However the scorer was in an offside position.
The pace of the game was slow with both teams wanting to guard their back so opportunities were slow to materialise, with Sekou Oliseh’s weak long-range effort the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock in a tense opening half-hour. At the other end, Sílvio concluded a lung-bursting run by slashing wide on the angle after taking receipt of Jardel’s incisive pass.
At the start of the second half, Romanian International Costin Lazăr came close to scoring after curling a shot centimetres past the far post. An even contest then changed dramatically shortly before the hour. Enzo Pérez’s hopeful centre was cleverly brought down by Filip Djuričić and Lima – on the periphery for long periods – rifled the ball past Panagiotis Glykos.
Glykos had to intervened one more time with a spectacular save to Lazar Marković’s goal-bound shot.
PAOK had a last chance to bring the game even gust minutes from the finish, but Kostas Katsouranis’s header was saved by Benfica’s goalkeeper Artur.
The final whistle let the PAOK fans feeling disappointed with the way their team lost.
Juventus – Trabzonspor 2-0
Osvaldo marked his first start for the Bianconeri by breaking the deadlock on 16 minutes. The home side missed several first-half opportunities to score another but Trabzonspor improved drastically in the second period and went close to an important away goal before conceding the second in stoppage time, after Pogba scored a right-footer sending Onur the other way. Carlos Tevez was the one who provided the assist.
Trabzonspor now has a difficult taks ahead of them, having to overcome a two-goal lead against the Serie A champions no less.
Maribor – Sevilla 2-2
Substitute Dare Vršič levelled the scores at the death as the Slovenian champions claimed something of a moral victory.
A 2-2 draw felt a lot like a victory for Slovenian champions NK Maribor, Dare Vršič levelling nine minutes from the end after Sevilla FC looked to have stolen a march on their hosts in this UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie.
The substitute blasted past Javier Varas from an angle to delight a packed house at the Stadion Ljudski vrt, and while there were chances for the Spanish side to steal a first-leg win – Piotr Trochowski hitting the bar before Jasmin Handanovič saved Vicente Iborra’s shot – Ante Šimundža’s men had cause for celebration at the whistle.
Rakitić and substitute Marko Marin passed up opportunities to kill the game, setting the stage for Vršić to give the underdogs what felt like their day.
The other results were:
Anzhi Makhachkala – Genk 0-0
Chornomorets Odesa. – Lyon 0-0
Dnipro – Tottenham Hotspur 1-0
Dynamo Kyiv – Valencia 0-2
Esbjerg fB – Fiorentina 1-3
Liberec – AZ Alkmaar 0-1
Ajax – Salzburg 0-3
FC Porto – Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2
Maccabi Tel Aviv – Basel 0-0
Real Betis – Rubin Kazan 1-1
Swansea City – SSC Napoli 0-0
Viktoria Plzen – Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1