Lokomotiv Moscow was the only one of three Russian clubs to taste victory in the first leg of Europa League third round qualifying matches on Thursday.
The Lokomotiv vs Spartak Moscow marquee would normally sell out the Railwaymen’s stadium, which holds around 30 thousand fans.
But this time the arena was only half full as this team, also called Spartak, arrived from the small town of Trnava in Slovakia.
But no matter how big or little a club may be, any team’s European ambitions are always huge.
Lokomotiv were clearly the strongest side in this tie as they had already put the match to bed in the first half.
Renat Yanbaev opened for the home team after 34 minutes of play. Vladislav Ignatiev set up the eventual scorer, who demonstrated brilliant dribbling skills on the edge of the penalty area and sent the ball into an unreachable right corner, 1-0.
The Railwaymen doubled their lead just three minutes later. The team’s iconic captain Dmitry Sychev blasted from the edge of the penalty area and the keeper could barely deflect the ball.
Unfortunately for him and Spartak, Lokomotiv’s Maicon was in the right place for a rebound and scored the team’s second, 2-0.
“It was a hard match for us because they took full control of the ball. It was only a matter of time before Lokomotiv could break through our defense and score. But we’re happy with this result because it leaves us with a chance and ensures us a full house in the return leg in Slovakia,” Pavel Hoftych, Spartak Trnava coach, said.
The words of Spartak Trnava coach are no fantasy, as some pundits might say.
And the beginning of the second half proved him right, as Lokomotiv fell way back into their defense leaving plenty of room for the visitors.
But even then, Spartak’s charges were rare and didn’t really amount to much for the rest of this match. So 2-0 was the final score.
Results aside, this game was also a great opportunity to see Lokomotiv’s newly-acquired players in action as they continued helping the new head coach Jose Couceiro go match after match without conceding a single goal.
“I think the team feels confidence winning by two goals. I believe our team is capable of scoring in Slovakia. So whether we score one or two goals I think we’ll b e able to go to the next round,” Victor Obinna, Lokomotiv’s rookie striker, said.
Lokomotiv should be feeling pretty comfortable going into the second leg of the Europa League play-off against Spartak Trnava. Of course there have been plenty of teams who managed to come back from such a deficit but that scenario is highly unlikely in this particular tie.
Legia Warsaw 2-2 Spartak Moscow
Another side from the Russian capital, Spartak, needed to fight back twice to earn a 2-2 draw with Polish outfit Legia.
The Poles, who opened the scoring after just two minutes of play through Miroslav Radovic, looked very well in the first half, not letting Spartak create any serious threats.
But after the break, Legia seemed to be unable to keep up with their own pace, while Spartak got the ball under control and equalized.
Ari delivered a beautiful chipped ball behind the back of home keeper Wojciech Skaba to make it 1-1 in the 52nd minute.
But, despite the course of the game, Legia managed to restore their lead.
Danijel Ljuboja’s back-heel became an unsolvable riddle for Spartak’s defense in the 69th minute and Radovic scored his second goal of the night into the empty net, 2-1.
The Poles were still celebrating when the Red-and-Whites made it 2-2. Ari also completed a brace after getting on the end of a cross from substitute Aleksandr Kozlov in the 71st minute.
The game in Warsaw ended in a draw but away goals mean the momentum lies with Spartak.
Besiktas JK 3-0 Alania Vladikavkaz
The leaders of the Russian second division, Alania, failed to come up with any surprises away to Turkish powerhouse, Besiktas.
Tomas Sivok opened the scoring for the host after panic in the Vladikavkaz defense in the first half, while former Real Madrid star, Gutti, and Hugo Almeida added two more after the break.
The second leg of the Europa League play-offs are scheduled to take place on August 25.