SECOND BEST: Baltic clubs will be battling it out in the second leg of the second qualifying round of the Europa league.
RIGA - While Flora, Ekranas and Skonto are all attempting to qualify for Europe’s top tier competition, there is still plenty at stake for other Baltic clubs who are currently attempting to qualify for Europe’s second tier competition, the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Europa League. Europe’s second most prestigious club competition, the Europa League, is played out between clubs who have typically finished between second and fifth in their respective domestic competitions. For Baltic clubs, the Europa League offers the most realistic opportunity to play at the top level in Europe.
To date, four Baltic clubs have already attempted and failed at qualifying for the 2010/2011 Europa League main draw. Participating in the first qualifying round was Lithuanian club Banga; Estonian clubs Trans Narva and Nomme Kalju; and Latvian club Daugava.
Playing in a home-and-away series on June 30 and July 7, only one of the four clubs, Nomme Kalju, came even close to overcoming their opposition, with the Estonian club holding their Finnish opponents Honka to a 0-0 draw on the Finn’s home territory before falling 2-0 at home. The other three teams all ended up losing their respective clashes by at least six goals.
However, in the second qualifying round – of which the second leg will be played out on Thursday, July 21, the results are looking somewhat more promising for a further five Baltic clubs. Participating in second round qualifying is Estonian club Levadia Tallinn, Latvian clubs Venstpils and Liepajas Metalurgs, and Lithuanian clubs Suduva and Tauras. Should any of the teams win their ties, they will then move through to the third round of qualifying.
Levadia Tallinn has every reason to be confident, looking ahead to their return leg match with Luxembourg club Differdange. On the first leg, nothing could separate the two teams as they fought it out for 90 minutes without a goal being scored. Back in Tallinn for the second leg, Levadia Tallinn will now look to take full advantage of playing at home.
Ventspils is another team that remains confident looking ahead to the second leg, after getting up to beat Shakhtyor Soligorsk 1-0 with the goal coming in the 89th minute on the Belarusian team’s home turf.
The news is not so good, however, for fellow Latvian side Liepajas Metalurgs, who have their work cut out for them when they try and overcome a three goal deficit after losing 1-4 to Austrian club Salzburg in the opening leg.
Playing at home against Swedish club Elfsborg, Suduva was able to salvage a late draw with a goal by substitute Ricardas Beniusis in the 88th minute, tying the score at one apiece and leaving the Lithuanian club hopeful of moving through to the next round following the return leg match in Sweden.
Hosting Dutch club ADO Den Haag on the first leg, Tauras are another team that have their work cut out for them, looking ahead to the second leg. Trailing 1-0 since the 56th minute, Den Haag tied the game in the 71st minute, but two minutes later Tauras were back in the lead. However, Tauras would be made to pay for their own errors in the final stages, first allowing Den Haag to tie the game from the penalty spot in the 82nd minute before conceding a crucial own goal four minutes into added time.
Should any of the five Baltic teams win their second round qualifying matches on Thursday, they will then go through to the third round of qualifying, of which the first leg will take place on July 28 and the second a week later, on August 4.