LONDON: FC Basel, who reached the Champions League knockout stages last season, were left facing a second qualifying round exit after they suffered a 2-1 reverse at Greek side PAOK Thessaloniki in the first leg on Tuesday.
The Swiss giants nevertheless grabbed a late away goal through Albian Ajeti and will be hoping to make it count in the second leg next week.
Elsewhere, a stoppage time goal saw Kazakh champions FC Astana snatch a 2-1 victory over Denmark’s FC Midtjylland, former European champions Red Star Belgrade beat Lithuanian champion Suduva Marijampole 3-0 and Dinamo Zagreb thrashed Israeli visitors Hapoel Beer Sheva 5-0.
Polish champions Legia Warsaw were stunned by Slovakians Spartak Trnava 2-0, Swedes Malmo overcame Romanians CFR Cluj 1-0 and Macedonians Shkendija beat Moldovans Sheriff Tiraspol by the same score.
PAOK’s victory came in the aftermath of raging wildfires in the Athens region with all proceeds from the game being given to those affected by the disaster which saw 74 people killed.
For a moment the Greek Cup holders were in full control, leading 2-0 exactly 10 minutes from time, but Basel pulled one back a minute later to snatch a sweet defeat in the end.
A spectacular left-foot long-range shot by Jose Alberto Canias flew into the Basel net on the 32nd minute and with the game going on with both sides missing chances, the crescendo of the 80th minute could have hardly been anticipated.
PAOK scored a second goal on a counterattack through Aleksandar Prijovic, but a minute later conceded a soft goal to Ajeti who headed the ball home from close range.
Astana, who played in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition three seasons ago, grabbed their winning goal 20 seconds before the final whistle through László Kleinheisler.
Kleinheisler had put Astana ahead a minute after the half hour mark but Gustav Wikheim levelled things up for the visitors six minutes after the break.
Red Star took the initiative from the first minute against Suduva and Lorenzo Ebecilio secured the initial lead in the 23rd minute with shot from 20 metres.
Nemanja Radonjic caught a deflected shot from Suduva’s goalkeeper to add Red Star’s second 12 minutes later and added the third with a long-range strike on 58 minutes.
Two goals from Macedonian international Arijan Ademi drove Croatians Dinamo past Israelis Beer Sheva while Carlos Strandberg scored the winner for Malmo against Cluj.
The biggest surprise of the night, though, came in Poland where Legia —who played in the Champions League two seasons ago — failed to make home advantage count. Trnava’s goals came from Erik Grendel in the 16th minute and from Jan Vlasko in the third minute of injury time.
The return legs will take place on August 1.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2018