Hearts on course to face FC Zurich after strong Swiss performance in Belfast

FC Zurich are on course to book a Europa League play-off date with Hearts.

The Swiss champions defeated Linfield 2-0 in Northern Ireland in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie and are now heavy favourites to face Robbie Neilson’s men on August 18 and 25.

Tosin Aiyegun opened the scoring on eight minutes at Windsor Park before Italian teenager Wilfried Gnonto added a second on 64 minutes to complete a good night’s work in Belfast ahead of the return leg next week in Zurich.

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It was an evening to remember in the same competition for Shamrock Rovers, who defeated Macedonian outfit Skhupi 3-1 at the Tallaght Stadium.

Hearts await the winners of Linfield and FC Zurich in the Europa League play-off round.
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A penalty from Graham Burke and then a Dylan Watts goal had the League of Ireland side 2-0 up at the break, and although Skhupi responded through Queven on 77, a red card for Walid Hamidi halted their charge ahead of next week’s second leg and a stoppage-time strike from Gary O’Neil sealed the win.

In the Europa Conference League, another League of Ireland outfit St Patrick’s continued their fine run of form in the competition with an impressive 1-0 win away at CSKA Sofia.

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Fresh from knocking out Mura on penalties in the previous round, the Saints – managed by former Hibs, St Johnstone and Motherwell defender Tim Clancy – won in the Bulgarian capital thanks to a goal from Finnish forward Serge Atakayi three minutes from time.

St Pat’s are now favourites to finish the job in a week’s time.

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Their fellow of LoI outfit Sligo Rovers, however, are all but out after a chastening night away at Viking in Stavanger.

The conquerors of Motherwell in the previous round were always facing an uphill task against the Norwegians, who are also midway through their league season. They were five goals up by the time David Cawley scored a late penalty for Rovers and the return leg at the Showgrounds looks a dead rubber now.

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Dundee United’s potential final Europa Conference League play-off round foes, either Riga FC of Latvia or Gil Vicente of Portugal, played on Wednesday night in the Baltic state and drew 1-1, leaving the tie finely poised ahead of next week’s return leg in Barcelos.