By Brian Homewood
Besiktas hit the bar straight from kickoff as they were held 0-0 at home by Arsenal in Tuesday’s Champions League playoffs while a superb Gonzalo Higuain goal rescued Napoli in a 1-1 draw with visitors Athletic Bilbao.
Jonatan Soriano struck the woodwork three times and scored in Salzburg’s 2-1 win over visiting Malmo, Bayer Leverkusen won 3-2 at FC Copenhagen and a late goal gave Steaua Bucharest a 1-0 home win over Ludogorets Razgrad in the other first leg ties.
Arsenal, aiming to reach the group stage for the 17th season in a row, will be happy to have survived their tricky trip to Istanbul, especially after Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey was sent off in the 80th minute for a second bookable offence.
Beskitas’s Senegal forward Demba Ba, who scored a hat-trick in the previous round against Feyenoord, took a pot-shot at goal straight from kickoff and his effort, aided by the swirling wind, forced Wojciech Szczesny to push the ball on to the bar.
The Polish keeper also turned away Ba’s fierce left-footed volley after 10 minutes as Arsenal survived a difficult opening.
Despite losing Ramsey, Arsenal nearly grabbed the winner when Tolga Zengin tipped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s curling effort on to the post.
“It was a very good game played with a good pace, a frenetic pace from the first to the last minute,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told ITV. “In the end we didn’t lose the game and hopefully we can make it at home.”
Serie A was left in danger of having only two teams in the group stage after Napoli, playing their first competitive match of the season, failed to beat Bilbao.
Iker Muniain side-footed the visitors ahead four minutes before halftime as Napoli struggled to find their rhythm.
But the Italian side’s Argentina forward Higuain levelled in the 68th minute when he brilliantly pulled down a pass and, despite being surrounded by three defenders, managed to make space and score with a low shot into the far corner.
Jose Callejon and Higuain missed sitters and the latter also saw a close-range effort brilliantly stopped by Gorka Iraizoz as Napoli pressed in a frenetic ending.
“Considering the way the game went, we can consider our reaction positive and must begin again from that,” said Napoli coach Rafael Benitez.
Austrian champions Salzburg, who have been eliminated in the qualifiers six times since Red Bull’s takeover in 2005, once again made life difficult for themselves against Malmo.
Franz Schiemer and Soriano put them 2-0 up in less than an hour and the Spaniard also hit the woodwork three times as Salzburg dominated the game.
But the game ended farcically for the hosts when a mix-up between Schiemer and keeper Peter Gulacsi in the 90th left Emil Forsberg to tap into an empty net for the 1979 European Cup runners-up, who have never played in the group stage.
Denmark’s chances of having two sides in the group stage for the first time look remote after Copenhagen’s home defeat against sesoned campaigners Leverkusen.
Stefan Kiessling gave the Bundesliga side a fifth minute lead, only for the Danes to hit back with headed goals by Mathias Joergensen and Daniel Amartey before 15 minutes was up.
Karim Bellarabi and Son Heung-Min replied before halftime for Leverkusen who should wrap up the tie at home on Aug. 27.
Former European champions Steaua Bucharest gave themselves a slender lead to take to Bulgaria when Alexandru Chipciu scored the only goal in the 88th minute.