Just because it's July doesn't mean we can be playing meaningful club soccer in Europe. This season's edition of the UEFA Champions League actually kicked off back in June with two first-round qualifiers, so it's basically turning into a year-round event.
This week marked the beginning of second-round qualifiers that included some recognizable teams to the average soccer fan. Celtic, Viktoria Plzen and BATE Borisov were all in action, along with a host of other teams that you may or may not have heard of.
All UCL qualifiers are played as two-leg, home-and-home series with the away goals rule in effect. This week's matches were the first legs.
Celtic made a memorable run to the Round of 16 in last season's tournament and even defeated Barcelona, but that doesn't get them any favors as they are forced to enter qualifying very early. Their first leg away trip to Northern Irish side Cliftonville provided no problems for the Glasgow side as goals from Mikael Lustig, Georgios Samaras and James Forrest put them in total control of the tie with a 3-0 win, especially with the second leg back at home.
Reigning Gambrinus liga champions Viktoria Plzen also entered the competition at this early stage, opening at home against the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina champions Zeljeznicar Sarajevo. Plzen prevailed in a 4-3 shootout with all seven goals scored the second half. While Plzen have the lead, they've given up three away goals with the second leg at Zeljeznicar.
The biggest upset of the first leg matches was Shakhter Karaganda's 1-0 away victory over BATE Borisov. BATE -- who've won seven straight titles in the Belarusian Premier League -- are a regular in the Champions League group stages and now must win on the road in the second leg to advance to the next round. Shakhtar Karaganda are the champions of the Kazakhstan Premier League.
Here's a recap of all the results from Tuesday and Wednesday's games.
Viktoria Plzen 4 - 3 Zeljeznicar Sarajevo
BATE Borisov 0 - 1 Shakhter Karaganda
Dinamo Tbilisi 6 - 1 EB Streymur
FK Ekranas 0 - 1 FH Hafnarfjordur
Sheriff Tiraspol 1 - 1 Sutjeska
Birkirkara 0 - 0 NK Maribor
CS Fola Esch 0 - 5 Dinamo Zagreb
Steaua Bucuresti 3 - 0 Vardar
Shirak 1 - 1 Partizan Belgrade
HJK Helsinki 0 - 0 Nomme Kalju
Neftchi 0 - 0 Skenderbeu
Elfsborg 7 - 1 FC Daugava
Sligo 0 - 1 Molde
Slovan Bratislava 2 - 1 Ludogorets Razgrad
T.N.S. 1 - 3 Legia Warsaw
Gyor 0 - 1 Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Cliftonville 0 - 2 Celtic