FK Ventspils secured a narrow advantage in their third qualifying round tie against last season’s group-stage participants BATE Borisov with a 1-0 first-leg win.
In a tight contest, Grigori Chirkin’s 64th-minute long-range goal was enough to give the Latvian champions victory over their Belarussian counterparts.
BATE coach Viktor Goncharenko made changes to try and gain something ahead of the return fixture, but the visitors could not break through the resolute home defense.
BATE started brightly with Sergei Krivets to the fore. He provided the first threat after 13 minutes when his curling shot whistled past the top corner before teammate Igor Stasevich also went close.
Ventspils withstood the early onslaught, however, and countered through Igor Tigirlas, who broke down the right and delivered for Jurijs Zigajevs, but the Latvia midfielder could not apply a telling touch.
The same player was guilty of passing up an even better chance soon after when he capitalised on Aleksandr Yurevich’s mistake only to miss the target with just BATE goalkeeper Sergei Veremko to beat.
The Belarussian titleholders were creating chances of their own and Ventspils No. 1 Andrejs Pavlovs had to be alert to parry Pavel Nekhaichik’s header before Sergei Sosnovski sent an effort drifting just over.
The hosts came out with renewed purpose after the interval, however, Andrejs Butriks and Chirkin trying their luck from distance before Tigirlas drew a save from Veremko. Ventspils finally got their goal just after the hour when Chirkin unleashed a tremendous 30-meter strike which flew into the top corner.
Goncharenko brought on Aleksandr Alumona and Maksim Bordachov, but the Latvian side stood firm and could have even doubled their lead when Zigajevs missed another gilt-edged chance.