By: Florian Gheorghe
Being a top seed doesn’t guarantee you anything especially if the underdog is willing to fight. That’s what three of the most notorious football clubs from Eastern European learned on Tuesday night in their UEFA Champions League debut.
The 2015 Bulgarian A PFG champions Ludogorets Razgrad learned this important lesson the hard way. Being used to be underdogs themselves and upset the more experienced teams, the Eagles didn’t know how to handle the pressure of being heavy favorite sand lost the first leg of the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round against Moldavian side FC Milsami Orhei. With Marcelinho suspended – arguably the best player on the team – Ludogorets missed attempt after attempt and just before the break, they even conceived a goal following a corner kick. The second half didn’t change anything on the scoreboard leaving Ludogorets with some deep open wounds that can heal only if they beat Milsami by a margin of at least two goals in the second leg.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary to have a tough start, we have many new players. There are six – seven new names on the team, it will take time for them to adjust. Now we are obliged to win in the second leg, we have one week to take care of our problems,”Ludogorets leader, Romanian Cosmin Moti explained. He was the hero last year helping the team reaching the group stage for the first time in their short history. Unfortunately for him, if nothing changes, he could miss the opportunity of doing it again this year.
Just like Ludogorets, Romanian champs Steaua Bucharest were in a world of trouble in Slovakia, where they played the first leg of the second qualifying round against Trencin. But, as opposed to the Bulgarians, the Romanians didn’t end up losing. They didn’t start well failing to score any goals for the fifth consecutive half. In the previous two official games, Steaua lost the Romanian Super Cup 0 – 1 and started the new domestic season with a goalless draw.
“When I saw we couldn’t score goals for the third match in a row, I told my players at the break that it’s better to lose 2-1 than ending up with another 0-0,”Steaua coach Mirel Radoi told the media.
The Romanian side responded immediately and broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute thanks to anangled free kick perfectly executed by Nicolae Stanciu. Seven minutes later, Algerian Jugurtha Hamroun doubled the advantage finishing off the Slovakians 2-0.The second leg will be played in Bucharest and will most likely end Trencin UEFA Champions League’s dreams.
Not the same thing can be said about FK Partizan’s opponents, Georgian champs FC Dila Gori. They still have their chances to advance and eliminate the Serbian historic club after losing in Belgrade 1-0. Despite the close score, the match was a flat-out Serbian domination only that they couldn’t find the net. Partizan had 21 goal attempts including 9 on target and 1 that hit the bar. Dila had only one major attempt but the Georgians fought bravely until the very last moments of the game. The Serbian goal came late in the 83rd minute: Guga Phalavandishvili fouled Andrija Živkovićon the edge of the penalty box and received a second booking while captain Stefan Babović netted the ball beautifully from the resulting free kick.
The second leg is set for next Tuesday in Georgia with Dila having the unique chance of eliminating a former European Cup finalist. Can they do it?