Olympiakos moved into the driving seat to reach the Champions League playoff round after a fine brace by striker El Fardou Ben Nabouhane helped them win 3-1 at Partizan Belgrade in a tense atmosphere on Tuesday.
The Greek side’s ultra fans have close ties with Partizan’s bitter city foes Red Star and the match was played under tight security with no visiting supporters present after the clubs agreed to give up their respective away ticket allocations.
The third qualifying round first-leg match was not entirely incident-free, however, as Partizan fans threw firecrackers at Olympiakos midfielder Marko Marin when he went to take a corner and a plastic bottle at a visiting player as the teams went off at half-time.
Olympiakos went ahead after six minutes when Ben Nabouhane scored with a crisp finish after he was put through by Marin.
Partizan levelled four minutes later as their towering Cameroonian striker Leandre Tawamba scrambled the ball home from close range from a sharp low cross by midfielder Marko Jankovic.
Ben Nabouhane restored the visitors’ lead with a magnificent long-range strike in the 57th minute and Nigerian forward Emmanuel Emenike sealed the win in stoppage-time after rounding goalkeeper Filip Kljajic and slotting the ball into an empty net.
Vardar Skopje, aiming to become the first Macedonian side to reach the group stage, followed up their shock elimination of Malmo in the last round by beating FC Copenhagen 1-0 at home with a second-half goal from Brazilian Jonathan Balotelli.
Romanian side FCSB, formerly Steaua Bucharest, twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at home to Czech side Viktoria Plzen while Milan Skoda’s first-half penalty gave Slavia Prague a 1-0 home win over BATE Borisov, champions of Belarus for the past 11 seasons.
Alan Dzagoev and Pontus Wernbloom scored either side of halftime as CSKA Moscow won 2-0 at AEK Athens and Azeri champions Qarabag were held 0-0 by Moldovan counterparts Sheriff Tiraspol.