SOFIA: Tottenham survived a Europa League scare as they needed two goals in the final 10 minutes to beat Lokomotiv Plovdiv 2-1 in the second qualifying round.
Spurs named a strong team in Bulgaria but were facing an embarrassing loss when Georgi Mindev put the hosts ahead in the 71st minute.
But Jose Mourinho’s men saved face with an impressive comeback as a Harry Kane penalty, after an incident which saw two Plovdiv players sent off, and Tanguy Ndombele’s 85th-minute winner sent them through.
They will now face Macedonian outfit Shkendija in next Thursday’s third qualifying round.
Spurs will hope that Gareth Bale will not have been watching ahead of his proposed return to the club as they laboured against a much weaker team.
It could have been a much easier evening had Son Heung-min done better inside the opening 10 minutes as he shot at the legs of Martin Lukovs after being played in by Giovani Lo Celso.
Steven Bergwijn rattled the crossbar soon after from the edge of the area and then the Dutchman should have won a penalty after being clearly tripped, but the referee chose not to give it.
Spurs continued to press and Kane and Ben Davies had further opportunities, but Mourinho’s men could not find a breakthrough.
They had their best chance eight minutes after the restart when Davies teed up Son, but he clipped over from six yards when it seemed easier to hit the target.
Mourinho’s men then had the rug pulled out from under their feet as they conceded from a set-play.
A corner was flicked on to the back post where Minchev ran in to slam past Hugo Lloris.
That spurred the Premier League team into action and they levelled nine minutes later as Davies’ header was handled on the line by Dinis Costa who was sent off, with team-mate Birsent Karagaren following for a second yellow card after strong protests.
Kane made no mistake from the spot, firing high into the net to open his account for the season.
Five minutes later, there was a huge sigh of relief as Ndombele was on hand to convert Lucas Moura’s pass after Spurs had got in down the right.
Goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hakan Calhanoglu saw AC Milan beat League of Ireland side Shamrock Rovers in their Europa League qualifier in Dublin.
Ibrahimovic clinically fired home from the edge of the box on 23 minutes after playing a one-two with Calhanoglu.
The Swede hit the bar, before playing his part in a precise passing move which set up Turkey forward Calhanoglu, who scored with a tidy finish on 67.
Rovers’ Aaron Greene forced three good saves from Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The Milan goalkeeper twice denied Greene in the first half and made another fine stop after the interval at a Tallaght Stadium devoid of spectators in line with Uefa guidelines.
Ibrahimovic’s first-half strike was perfectly placed as he took one touch and slammed the ball right-footed past Alan Mannus at his near post.
The 38-year-old striker almost grabbed his second when a looping shot over his head cannoned off the woodwork and then Davide Calabria’s inswinging shot forced a smart save from Mannus.
Aaron McEneff cleared off the line from Theo Hernandez while Ronan Finn saw his header saved by Donnarumma at the end of the first half.
The 18-times Italian champions are aiming to rebuild their reputation as one of Europe’s major forces in club competition after being unable to challenge for the top honours in recent years.
Milan missed out on playing in Europe last season as they were handed a one-year ban from European football for breaching Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules.
The seven-time European Cup winners finished sixth in Serie A last season and manager Stefano Pioli has been tasked with plotting the club’s way back to the highest echelons of European football.
His team will face Bodo Glimt of Norway in the third qualifying round of the Europa League next week and must then also negotiate the play-off round if they are to progress to the group stage of the competition.
Shamrock Rovers were the first League of Ireland club to make the group stages in 2011 but their defeat at the hands of the Italian giants leaves them to concentrate on the Irish Premier Division, which they currently head by eight points from Bohemians.
The Dublin side exited the Europa League at the same stage of the competition last season – losing 4-3 after extra-time on aggregate over two legs to Cypriot outfit Apollon.
Steven Gerrard’s team were back at the Victoria Stadium 12 months on from beating St Joseph’s in last year’s opening qualifier.
This time they kicked off their continental campaign against a side who famously upset Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic side in 2016.
But there was little danger of the Ibrox men suffering the same kind of humiliation dished out to their Old Firm rivals once skipper James Tavernier netted for the third game running with a stunning set-piece.
Gers cruised to victory on the southern tip of Spain with substitute Alfredo Morelos netting a double to reach 20 goals in Europe for the club, while Connor Goldson and Jermain Defoe also contributed to a result which books them a trip to Holland to face Willem II in a week’s time.
Gerrard made six changes to the team who put four past Dundee United on Saturday, with goalkeeper Allan McGregor and striker Cedric Itten among those recalled.
In the hosts’ line-up was Lee Casciaro, the forward who has made himself the answer to pub quiz questions for years to come by netting goals against both Celtic and Scotland.
And he almost completed the set just four minutes in as he flashed a header over McGregor’s crossbar.
But that was all the Scots had to worry about under the imposing rock face
Red Imps got men behind the ball in an effort to deny Gers time and space in the final third but it was only ever a matter of time before the Light Blues found a breakthrough.
Ianis Hagi’s trickery in tight spaces made him a marked man and he found himself on the receiving end of some rough treatment.
The Romanian was dumped to the floor just outside the box by home skipper Roy Chipolina on 21 minutes.
The free-kick was positioned perfectly for Tavernier, who swept a sublime strike over the wall and past Kyle Goldwin to give Gerrard just the start he was looking for.
But there was concern on the manager’s face seven minutes before the break, when Roofe pulled up with an apparent calf injury.
Having seen four of his men hurt against United, Gerrard was taking no chances and immediately whipped the former Leeds ace off, with young full-back Nathan Paterson introduced and Tavernier pushed up to right wing.
But there was some cheer for the Gers bench in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Rangers struck again. Jack Sergeant’s foul on Hagi wide on the left teed up Borna Barisic to deliver and Goldson powered home with a header.
Tavernier’s work was done, with Morelos introduced at half-time. But McGregor was called on to preserve Gers’ shut-out record – which now stands at eight games if you count the defeat to Bayer Leverkusen as last season – when George Edmundson inexplicably chose to duck as a cross came into his box.
His goalkeeper was there to rescue, however, blocking Chipolina at point-blank range.
It was game over on 67 minutes when the latest Chipolina foul on Hagi allowed Barisic to clip in another teasing cross, with Stewart knocking down for Morelos to tap home his third of the season.
Rangers survived a late penalty shout when Goldson clattered into Casciaro before extending their lead even further with six minutes left as Defoe fired into the corner after Patterson and Hagi combined on the edge of the box.
Defoe then turned provider as he rolled in Morelos to dink the ball over Goldwin with two minutes left.
In the one-legged tie in Norway both sides had chances in a wide-open first half before Ross McCrorie fired in a drive to put the visitors ahead just before the break.
Aberdeen’s lead was fragile but Hedges, who scored a hat-trick in the 6-0 win over NSI Runavik in the last round, eased the nerves in the 78th minute when his inswinging corner from the right flew straight in at the far post.
The result saw the Dons extend their winning run to six games and will play Sporting Lisbon away in the third qualifier.
The Granite City men survived a scare in the first minute when home striker Zymer Bytyqi dragged a shot wide from inside the box but they were soon on the front foot.
Marley Watkins’ header from a Jonny Hayes cross in the sixth minute was tipped over the bar by Iven Austbo – the home side survived the corner – and the Viking keeper then made a decent save from a McCrorie drive.
The visitors should have scored in the 15th minute when Scott Wright was sent through by Hedges but his unconvincing shot was blocked by Austbo.
The home side threatened again.
Dons defender Andrew Considine did well to prevent Ylldren Ibrahimaj getting in a clean shot from close range, with Dons keeper Joe Lewis gathering, and the Viking player missed the target with a header moments later.
Dylan McGeouch – in for Matty Kennedy – Lewis Ferguson and Watkins all had efforts for the Premiership side without success.
However, in the 44th minute McCrorie rifled low into the net after Wright’s shot was blocked following a corner, although Slovakian referee Filip Glova had a long chat with his assistant – there was a suggestion of offside – before confirming the goal.
Viking striker Veton Berisha came close with a drive from 14 yards at the start of the second half following a well-worked corner to remind the Pittodrie men that work had yet to be done.
The match swung from end to end
Watkins, Wright and Hayes had shots blocked and Ferguson went close with a drive.
Aberdeen, though, lived dangerously at times.
Bytyqi flashed a shot just over the bar and in the 72nd minute Lewis saved from Berisha and again Bytyqi cleared the bar from the rebound.
However, when Hedges curled his corner into the net, the relief was palpable and Aberdeen managed the rest of the game to ease into the next round.