DAVID SMITH - Thursday, July 19, 2012
Josh Gatt and Molde all but assured their spot in the next qualifying round while Bryan Gerzicich and Kiryat Shmona need a strong home leg next week in order to fight past their Slovakian opposition.
MSK Zilina 1 - 0 Ironi Kiryat Shmona
Bryan Gerzicich took up his usual spot in Shmona's midfield on Tuesday evening as they kept themselves in the hunt for reaching the third round of qualification in a narrow first-leg road loss to MKS Zilina.
Kiryat Shmona did well to continually frustrate their hosts, largely due to the fine play of keeper Daniel Amos. The former Israeli youth player saved a Momodou Ceesay shot in the early going and another from Jozef Piaček shortly thereafter.
The Slovakian champions looked to have finally gotten their breakthrough with nine minutes left in the game after El'ad Gabai upended substitute Jean Deza just inside the area, however Amos once again thwarted the hosts, saving Ricardo Nunes' poorly-placed spot kick.
On the ensuing corner, however, Piaček was left unmarked at the far post, and rose high to head the ball past the helpless keeper for the late winner.
The two teams will face off again in the Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa on Tuesday evening, with the Israeli champions needing needing an outright win to advance to the next round.
Molde FK 3 - 0 FK Ventspils
Josh Gatt lined up on the left side of a three-man front-line for Molde on Wednesday night, helping the team score an impressive win over Latvian team VK Ventspils.
Molde were dominant through the first half, albeit without any reward, but a trio of second-half goals gave Ole Gunnar Solskjær's squad a well-deserved final scoreline.
In the 53rd minute, Magnus Eikrem lofted in a long free kick which Daniel Hestad headed towards goal from the left side of the six-yard box. Ventspils captain Vitālijs Smirnovs was in the way to initially block the shot, however the ball fell directly in front of the left post, where Davy Claude Angan rushed in to hit it over the line for the 1-0 advantage.
With 16 minutes left on the clock, Jo Inge Berget was felled by Oļegs Timofejevs as the two struggled for possession on the left edge of the area, allowing Vegard Forren to double the lead from the spot.
Then in the 83rd minute, Angan struck again to put the game - and almost certainly the series - out of reach, running onto a perfect through-ball from Hestad, streaked into the left side of the area, and putting his shot on-frame for the third and final goal.
The Norwegians only need to avoid a complete collapse in the return leg on Tuesday in order to reach the third round. In the meantime, they will try to stay within reach of the Tippeligaen top spot when they host Viking Stavanger on Saturday.
Danijal Brković was on the bench for Željezničar on Wednesday evening for their first-leg visit to NK Maribor, however was not called into action as the team suffered a 4-1 death-blow at the hands of their Slovenian hosts.