If they go out, it will be the third consecutive year Francesco Guidolin’s men have crashed out of a competition at this stage.
The first leg of this Europa League play-off was at the Stadio Nereo Rocco in Trieste, as the Stadio Friuli is being restructured this summer. Luis Muriel partnered Antonio Di Natale with Ivan Kelava replacing the injured Zeljko Brkic in goal. Slovan Liberec finished third in the Czech league last season.
Udinese got off to a blistering start, as after five minutes Muriel rattled the woodwork with a shot against the bar, having sprinted through the defence on to Giampiero Pinzi’s pass. Di Natale’s free kick also whistled wide and Danilo couldn’t keep his header on target.
However, Slovan Liberec took a shock lead with a potentially-crucial away goal to silence the crowd. Ukrainian Serhiy Rybalka robbed Allan in midfield and curled a remarkable left-foot finish past the helpless Kelava from all of 30 yards out.
Di Natale volleyed over from an Allan assist and Danilo again went close when he just failed to redirect a Di Natale cross-shot at the back post as he came sliding in.
The pressure finally paid off with Gabriel Silva snatching the equaliser, though Di Natale deserves much of the credit. The captain burst into the box and curled a cross on to the foot of Silva, whose volley bounced off the turf and into the net.
Muriel had a shot charged down and Udinese notched up numerous corners, but went into the break at 1-1.
After the restart Andrea Lazzari forced a save out of Kovar with his daisy-cutter, but once again Slovan Liberec were incredibly clinical.
It was another goal out of nowhere, as the visitors went on a rapid counter-attack and caught the defence out, allowing Dzon Delarge to turn in relatively undisturbed.
Once more Udinese were called into a fightback, so Dusan Basta tested the goalkeeper and Lazzari wasted a golden opportunity to equalise. Di Natale just missed the ball when sliding in, so it came to Lazzari who attempted to walk his way into the net and was denied by a Kovac goalline clearance.
Meanwhile Juan Cuadrado’s sensational strike and Mario Gomez gave Fiorentina an impressive 2-1 win away to Grasshopper.
The Viola went into this Europa League play-off first leg in Zurich without the injured David Pizarro, while Adem Ljajic was on the bench amid a contract dispute. Neto got the nod in goal and Giuseppe Rossi had his first competitive start in two years to partner ex-Bayern Munich star Mario Gomez. Grasshopper won the Swiss Cup and looked to Anatole Ngamukol to lead their attack.
Juan Cuadrado broke the deadlock with a spectacular goal, as he trapped a long Gonzalo Rodriguez ball and sprinted to the by-line. The Colombian feinted a cross, but instead smashed a powerful strike into the roof of the net from the tightest of angles.
Gomez pounced on a defensive error and his shot was deflected to aid a save, then came sliding in and just failed to finish off a fast move.
Grasshopper fought back and Anatole Ngamukol’s rising shot was fingertipped over the bar by Neto.
Roman Burki was also called upon with a desperate one-handed save to claw Alberto Aquilani’s finish off the line.
Within 24 seconds of the restart it was 2-0, as Rossi’s through ball allowed Gomez to spring the offside trap and Stephane Grichting’s attempt to block only ended up prodding it into his own net. UEFA awarded the goal to Gomez, as it was going in regardless of the deflection.
Rossi and Gomez both went for the same Aquilani chipped cross, so the chance was wasted. Cuadrado’s curler was palmed out of the far bottom corner.
Grasshopper got a goal back thanks to a defensive error, as a free kick was taken quickly and Ngakumol allowed a totally free header at the back post.
The Viola’s season has not yet started and it showed, as they began to tire in the final half-hour. Mistakes crept in, though Grasshopper struggled to pose a real threat. In fact, Marcos Alonso nodded wide from Adem Ljajic’s set piece and in the final minute Neto smothered a Milan Vilotic header from close range.
Di Natale was left with a huge bandage to stem the bleeding after a nasty clash of heads, while Piotr Zielinski blasted over from the edge of the box after coming off the bench.
Zielinski did better as an assist-man, as Di Natale dived on to his chipped pass and the goalkeeper smothered at his feet in the six-yard box.
Udinese were truly unlucky when Dusan Basta was allowed a free header from a corner and it thumped the base of the upright with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Slovan Liberec survived the pressure of a series of corners and extended their lead with a third away goal. It was another spectacular effort, this time Ondrej Kusnir curling a magnificent finish into the far top corner from 25 yards.
Kovar flew to palm a Maicosuel screamer out of the top corner and moments later Udinese hit the frame of the goal for the third time with Danilo’s glancing header.
Udinese’s frustration was palpable, as they notched up 14 corners to 0 and 27 shots on goal to seven, not to mention hitting the woodwork three times.
Europa League play-offs first leg results
Estoril (Portugal) 2-0 FC Pasching (Austria)
Sevilla (Spain) 4-1 Slask Wroclaw (Poland)
Rapid Vienna (Austria) 1-0 Dila Gori (Georgia)
Grasshoppers (Switzerland) 1-2 Fiorentina (Italy)
Udinese (Italy) 1-3 Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic)
Zulte Waregem (Belgium) 1-1 APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)
Chernomorets Odessa (Ukraine) 1-0 Skenderbeu (Albania)
Rijeka (Croatia) 2-1 VfB Stuttgart (Germany)
Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) 1-0 Thun (Switzerland)
Vojvodina Novi Sad (Serbia) 1-1 Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova)
Swansea City (Wales) 5-1 Petrolul Ploiesti (Romania)
Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) 2-0 Nice (France)
FH (Iceland) 0-2 Racing Genk (Belgium)
Elfsborg Boras (Sweden) 1-1 Nordsjaelland (Denmark)
Pandurii Targu-Jiu (Romania) 0-1 Braga (Portugal)
Tromso (Norway) 2-1 Besiktas (Turkey)
Kukesi (Albania) 0-2 Trabzonspor (Turkey)
Esbjerg (Denmark) 4-3 St Etienne (France)
St Gallen (Switzerland) 1-1 Spartak Moscow (Russia)
Kalju Nomme (Estonia) 1-3 Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine)
Molde (Norway) 0-2 Rubin Kazan (Russia)
Salzburg (Austria) 5-0 Zalgiris Vilnius (Lithuania)
Atromitos Athinon (Greece) 1-3 AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)
FK Minsk (Belarus) 0-2 Standard Liege (Belgium)
Maccabi Haifa (Israel) 2-0 FC Astra (Romania)
Dynamo Tbilisi (Georgia) 0-5 Tottenham Hotspur (England)
Jablonec (Czech Republic) 1-2 Real Betis (Spain)
Garabagh Agdam (Azerbaijan) 0-2 Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)
Kuban Krasnodar (Russia) 1-0 Feyenoord (Netherlands)
FK Aktobe (Kazakhstan) 2-3 Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine)