Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad overturned a first-leg deficit to reach the Champions League third qualifying round by beating Slovan Bratislava 3-0 on Wednesday to win 4-2 on aggregate, giving new coach Stoycho Stoev a dream start.
They will face Partizan Belgrade in the next round after the 1966 European Cup runners-up squeezed through on away goals after a goalless draw in Serbia — where they were down to 10 men — gave them a 1-1 aggregate over Armenia’s Shirak Gyumri.
Slovenia’s Maribor, level with Malta’s Birkirkara after a 0-0 first leg, booked a third-round date with APOEL of Cyprus with a 2-0 win at home, while Legia Warsaw beat Welsh side The New Saints 1-0 in Poland to go through 4-1 on aggregate.
Trailing 2-1 from last week’s first leg in Slovakia and reeling from Sunday’s sacking of coach Ivaylo Petev, Ludogorets made their intentions clear when they took a third-minute lead through Ivan Stoyanov’s fine left-footed volley.
The hosts went 2-0 up with 12 minutes on the clock when Dani Abalo finished well after a pass from Junior Caicara. The Bulgarian side made sure they would progress with Abalo’s second on 78 minutes as the Spaniard produced another neat goal.
It is the first time Ludogrets, who appointed Stoev as their new coach on Monday, will be appearing in the third qualifying round of the competition.
Their next opponents, Partizan, made hard work of their passage and although they had seven attempts on target compared with their visitors’ single effort, they could not find a way through.
Their cause was hampered in the 55th minute when defender Vladimir Volkov was shown a red card, but they held on and went through thanks to the same player’s stoppage-time equalizer from the first leg.
In Slovenia, Maribor seized the initiative in their draw with midfielder Goran Cvijanovic’s 28th-minute free-kick, before defender Mitja Viler doubled their lead two minutes into the second half to settle the matter.
Polish champions Legia had already done most of the work in the first leg in Wales, but carried on attacking to wipe out any lingering doubts, with Georgian striker Vladimir Dvalishvili netting a 53rd minute goal.
Legia, who reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1970, will next take on Norway’s Molde, managed by former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The third-qualifying-round matches are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, with the return legs set for Aug. 6 and Aug. 7.
The winners of those qualifiers will reach the playoff round, which offers a route into the lucrative group stage of the continent’s elite club competition.