Qualification for this year’s Europa League is already underway. There are three qualifying rounds (all two-legged) and the curtains will close on the second phase on Thursday, when the second legs of the respective matches will be played.
There are some mouth-watering games in prospect. Here are some of the second legs to keep an eye on…
Sarajevo (Bosnia) v Kukesi (Albania)
If the first leg is anything to go by, Thursday’s showdown should be just as thrilling. Kukesi – who finished second in the Albanian Superliga last season, four points adrift of champions Skenderbeu Korce – just edged it in Tirana winning 3-2. They took the lead through Yll Hoxha but an unfortunate own goal by striker Lazar Popovic drew it level. Sarajevo went ahead just a mere one minute later before the aforementioned Popovic struck just before the break. 2-2.
After our goals in the first 45, the hosts grabbed their third in the second period through Igli Allmuca and fought tooth and nail for the win. Sarajevo – an illustrious and well-known Bosnian club – were unlucky to head home empty hand. They will want to redeem themselves at home, in the Asim Ferhatović Hase Stadium, while Kukesi must try and defend resolutely but break with purpose when the chance comes.
FK Senica (Slovakia) v Mladost Podgorica (Montenegro)
This matchup hangs finely in the balance. Although just 4,500 people turned up to watch the first leg at Podgorica’s ground (which holds up to 12,000), there was still plenty of action and drama for those spectators to enjoy. Their visitors Senica – second place finishers in the Slovak top-flight last term with a credable 55 points – made life hard for their opponents. Dusan Vrt’o's men took the lead through Jan Kalabiska but Ivan Knezevic pulled one back. It was evenly poised until Ivorian frontman Lamine Diarrassouba scored late on. It looked destined to end with a victory to the visitors. However, Podgorica kept on pushing and eventually found a last-gasp equalizer when Taku Ishihara scored with four minutes to go.
There was both happiness and relief for Podgorica with that late goal. It wasn’t a convincing performance, and Senica will be kicking themselves from conceding like that. The former could really do with the physical power and goals of forward Rolando Blackburn but he left at the back end of last season. For Podgorica, meanwhile, 24-year-old Japanese midfielder Taku Ishihara is the danger man.
Other notable second leg fixtures to watch out for: FC Milsami (Moldova) v Shakhtyor Salihorsk (Belarus), Derry City (Ireland) v Trabzonspor (Turkey) and FC Utrecht (Holland) v FC Differdange 03 (Luxembourg)