One Baltic club passes first round of qualifying

Skonto midfielder Juris Laizāns (5) aims for the goal with this penalty kick against Portadown. Skonto eventually lost 1-0. Photo used courtesy of FK Skonto.

RIGA — Of the four Baltic teams to appear in the first round of UEFA Europa League qualifying, only one will move on to join a further five Baltic clubs in the second round.

There were four teams from the Baltics involved in the first round of qualifying, but after participating in a home and away format, only Tauras of Lithuania will move onto the second round. The unlucky three to have their European qualifying campaigns ended early were Skonto of Latvia along with two Estonian teams: FC Flora and FC Trans Narva.

With the exception of Trans Narva, all clubs had produced solid results competing away from home with the remaining three having a more than realistic chance of moving through to the second round of qualifying. However, it was only Tauras who acted upon the opportunity.

After tying 2-2 against Llanelli in Wales last Wednesday, Tauras just needed to keep their nerve at home this week. Things started accordingly for Tauras when they moved ahead in the 17th minute through Sergei Irka. However, this only sparked Llanelli into life who went onto a full out offensive to tie the game up soon later. When Irka grabbed his second just after half an hour of play Tauras were once more in the driver’s seat. But as they had following the first goal, Llanelli lifted the anti to once again tie the game up.

Reduced to 10 men early in the second spell, Llanelli could no longer afford to play with the same attacking intent, forced to defend for most of the second half. They proved up to the task with the game forced into extra time. Here the advantage was clearly with the home side as their fans lifted in spirit to up the tempo of their team. It proved successful, spurring Darius Regelskis on to score what would prove to be the winning goal in the 14th minute of overtime.

Skonto were not to experience similar fortunes in Riga, as they failed to use the home ground to their advantage with Richard Lecky scoring the only goal for the visiting Portadown from Northern Ireland in the 29th minute. Considering their wider European campaign was on the line, Skonto failed to play with any real conviction and in the end were accounted for easily.

Up in Estonia things were not going any better for FC Flora. Having gone down 2-1 away to Dinamo Tbilisi, FC Flora were just hoping for one goal, knowing that if they were to keep their opponents scoreless they would move through on aggregate. However on the night this proved to be too much of an ask, with neither team able to produce a goal in a dour affair.

Having suffered a 2-0 defeat at home to Finnish club MYPA, things did not improve for Trans Narva when they traveled to Finland to play the return leg. Looking solid for the first half, Trans Narva fell apart following the break, allowing five unanswered goals to suffer one of the largest aggregate defeats in the first qualifying round.

The second qualifying round will begin on July 15 and feature six Baltic teams with three from Lithuania, two from Latvia and one from Estonia.

Of the Lithuanian clubs Sūduva will be home to Austrian club Rapid Wien, Šiauliai will be home to Polish neighbors Wisla Krakow, whilst Tauras will play away to Apoeal of Cyprus. From Latvia Ventspils will host Teteks of Macedonia whilst Jelgava will play away to Molde of Norway. The only remaining Estonian team, Sillamäe Kalev will travel to Minsk to take on Dinamo.

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