UEFA Champions League 2011/12: Plzen, Lyon & Arsenal Make Winning Start in Vital Play-Off

FC Viktoria Plzen and Olympique Lyonnaise both recorded 3-1 victories, while Arsenal won 1-0 at home to Udinese of Italy in the first leg of their vital UEFA Champions League 2011/12 Qualification Play-Off matches on the evening of Tuesday 16th August 2011.

The two other matches of the evening ended in nervy draws, as BATE Borisov and SK Sturm Graz drew 1-1, and FC Twente and Benfica played out a 2-2 thriller in the Netherlands.

FC Copenhagen 1-3 Plzen

The surprise of the night was certainly Czech side, Plzen, who traveled to play last season’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 surprise package, FC Copenhagen, and returned with a strong 3-1 away win. After a goalless first half, the visitors took the lead through an Ottesen own goal on 52 minutes, before defender Pilar made it 2-0 to Plzen with a goal on 69 minutes. Ottesen made up for his own goal by scoring in the right end on 69 minutes to reduce the deficit before substitute Fillo restored the cushion, and gave Copenhagen a mountain to climb in the return leg by adding a third on 79 minutes.

The match was, as the scoreline suggests, and open affair, but Plzen will be particularly pleased that, despite sharing less of the ball, they matched their hosts for shots on target – with six per team – and managed to score with half of those efforts.

A good home defensive effort should see the Czech team, Plzen, through to the 2011/12 Champions League Group stages after this solid win, in which they collected a vital three away goals.

Lyon 3-1 Rubin Kazan

When the play-off round was decided, this one looked to be probably the harshest on each side – for both have UEFA Champions League heritage in recent seasons – but it was the French team, Lyon, who got off to the best start in the opening leg.

Rubin Kazan got off to the best of starts, however, when Dyadyun bagged an early away goal after just 3 minutes. Olympique Lyonnais soon got themselves back into the match, though, and were on level terms after 10 minutes following a goal from Gomis. A 40th minute own goal from Kazan’s Kverkvelia gave Lyon the 2-1 half time lead.

In the second half, a 71st minute goal from Lyon’s Briand gave them a comfortable cushion, which, on the evidence of this match  – Lyon had 12 shots on target to Kazan’s 3 – they should be good enough to maintain in the second leg, barring significant improvement from the evening’s visitors.

Arsenal 1-0 Udinese

Arsenal, fresh from losing Cesc Fabregas to UEFA Champions, Barcelona, found themselves competing to take part in this season’s competition at home to Udinese, of Italy.

A 4th minute Theo Walcott goal settled home fans’ nerves, though, as the pacey forward set about erasing fears that midfield inventiveness had gone from the team with their former captain.

Another goal from the hosts would have been highly desired to make the trip to Udinese a less daunting prospect, though with each side producing just four shots on target in the rest of the match, the scoreline remained 1-0 to the Gunners, who, importantely, did not allow their visitors to come away with an away goal. Any goal from Arsenal in the away leg should be enough to see them through to the UEFA Champions League Group stages once more – as Udinese would have to score at least three against a well organised defence to progress.

FC Twente 2-2 Benfica

There was great excitement in FC Twente Stadion, as the home side took the lead, then saw it eroded in the first half, before scoring a late equaliser which leaves this two-legged tie poised finely in the balance.

De Jong got the hosts off to the best possible start, by scoring after just 6 minutes, but Benfica showed why they have performed so well in Europe in recent seasons by overturning that lead by half time, with goals from Oscar Cardozo (21) and Nolito (35).

Home fans saw their men make a sound fightback in the second half, when they were rewarded by a goal from Ruiz after 80 minutes which sets up a Grandstand second leg in Portugal.

With two away goals, Benfica must be slight favourites to progress with home advantage in the second leg, though Twente, who out-shot their visitors in this match, demonstrated that they have the firepower to book themselves a place in the Champions League group stage, too. The second leg of this match looks set to be one of the ties of the round.

BATE Borisov 1-1 SK Sturm Graz

Neither BATE nor Sturm Graz looked to have brought many pairs of shooting boots to this first leg match, and the teams shared a 1-1 draw after producing two shots on target to one respectively in what was every bit as tight an affair as the scoreline suggests.

It was the visitors who broke the deadlock by scoring after 12 minutes through Weber following which they effectively shut up shop for the night – a tactic which nearly paid off, as they made it to the 59th minute before Simic finally put the hosts back on level terms.

Sturm Graz will be the happier of the two sides, for they came back from the Dinamo Stadion with an away goal, despite failing to produce an exactly inspiring performance – they had only 38% of possession and produced just one shot on target, though BATE must question just how they failed to pick up a home win from a match they dominated for large periods.

Fortune, in this tie, will surely favour whoever is bravest in attack in next week’s second leg.

UEFA Champions League 2011/12 Play-Off Round 1st Leg Results – Tuesday 16th August 2011

  • Arsenal 1-0 Udinese
  • BATE Borisov 1-1 SK Sturm Graz
  • FC Copenhagen 1-3 Plzen
  • FC Twente 2-2 Benfica
  • Lyon 3-1 Rubin Kazan

The second leg of each of these matches takes place on the evening of Wednesday 24th August 2011.

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