By Berend Scholten at the Jan Breydelstadion
Two goals in the last 20 minutes from Boško Balaban saw Club Brugge KV earn a comfortable win against Bulgarian champions PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round tie.
The Croatian striker converted passes from Gaëtan Englebert and Nastja Ceh in the closing stages of the game to give Trond Sollied's side a comfortable lead to take into next week's second leg. However, after missing several chances in the opening 70 minutes of the game, Brugge may have felt slightly relieved to come away with such an emphatic victory.
Balaban in particular had his share of chances before he finally opened the scoring with 18 minutes of the game remaining. After just three minutes, veteran striker Gert Verheyen made a fine interception in midfield and passed to team-mate Rune Lange. The Norwegian crossed for Balaban but the former Aston Villa FC striker was just centimetres away from making the all-important connection.
Barely 30 seconds later, Lokomotiv showed that they were not simply in the game to make up the numbers when Martin Kamburov hit the ball just wide of the Brugge goal, but that was to be the most exciting action until the latter stages of the first half as the two teams cancelled each other out through a combination of astute tackling and disappointing passing in midfield.
Off the post
Brugge raised their game in the final 15 minutes of the first half. First Slovenian international Ceh hit the left post of the Lokomotiv goal with a strike from ten metres before Balaban was denied by the goalkeeper, Stoyan Kolev. The goalkeeper was on hand to save the Bulgarian side again deep into added time as Lange found himself free on the edge of the penalty area but could not beat Kolev .
Nigerian forward Ekundayo Jaiyeoba almost opened the scoring for Lokomotiv four minutes into the second half as he was played in on goal after a fluent passing move only to miss the target from a good position. At the other end, Balaban missed the target with a header around the hour mark before Brugge goalkeeper Tomislav Butina made a fine save to turn another Jaiyeoba shot behind for a corner.
The home side finally took control after 72 minutes when a beautiful pass from Englebert sent Balaban through on goal. The Croatian kept his cool and beat Kolev with a deft lob. Two minutes from time he put the ball past the goalkeeper again from Ceh's cross to finish the scoring.