Former European champions Steaua Bucharest began their UEFA Champions League campaign in style on Tuesday in the second qualifying round.
The Romanian title holders have fallen from grace somewhat on the continental stage since lifting the old European Cup in 1986, but their dreams of a lengthy run in this season’s competition are very much alive after a 3-0 first-leg victory at home to Macedonia’s Vardar.
Cristian Tanase gave them the perfect start after just 12 minutes, before their advantage was doubled by midfielder Mihai Doru Pintilii nine minutes later.
Vardar battled hard but were the masters of their own downfall when goalkeeper Igor Pavlovic turned the ball into his own net in first-half injury time, giving the visitors plenty to do in the second leg if they are to progress.
In Borisov, BATE saw their hopes of repeating last season’s run to the group stages suffer a blow as they were on the wrong end of a shock 1-0 home defeat to Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan.
The Belarusian outfit were one of just two sides to beat eventual winners Bayern Munich in the 2012-13 competition, triumphing 3-1 in Minsk before ultimately exiting at the group stage.
However, they were no match for the Kazakh champions on Tuesday as Sergei Khizhnichenko’s low shot beat goalkeeper Andrei Gorbunov for the only goal three minutes before half time.
There were no such worries for Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, who are all but assured of progression to the third qualifying round after establishing a 5-0 lead in the first leg against Fola Esch of Luxembourg.
After a slow start, the visitors upped the pace after the interval, scoring all their goals in the second half courtesy of a double from Algerian striker Hilal Soudani as well as strikes from Duje Cop, Arijan Ademi and Junior Fernandes.
There was also an emphatic win for Dinamo Tbilisi, who thumped Faorese minnows EB/Streymur 6-1 in the first leg at the Boris Paichadze National Stadium in Georgia, while Hafnarfjordur will take a narrow 1-0 advantage back to Iceland for their second leg against Ekranas.
Petur Vidarsson’s 30th-minute header proved the difference between the two sides, but Hafnarfjordur were forced to ride their luck as the hosts hit the woodwork three times.
There is still everything to play for between Sheriff of Moldova and Montenegro’s Sutjeska after a 1-1 first-leg draw in Triaspol, while Maltese outfit Birkirkara were held 0-0 at home by Maribor.
Czech champions Viktoria Plzen secured a first-leg advantage but may ultimately rue conceding three away goals as they edged a seven-goal thriller 4-3 against Bosnians Zeljeznicar.
In a remarkable game, all the goals came in the second half, but Pavel Vrba’s side ultimately seized a narrow lead to take into the away fixture courtesy of Czech defender Frantisek Rajtoral’s 81st-minute strike.