MOSCOW, August 2 (R-Sport) - Two goals from Ivelin Popov gave Russia’s football club Kuban victory in its first-ever European game Thursday, a 2-0 defeat of Scottish side Motherwell.
Popov poked in Ibrahima Balde’s cross on 52 minutes to put Kuban ahead in the Europa League third round qualifier. The Bulgarian grabbed his second on the counter-attack on 78 minutes, again off a cross from Balde, leaving Motherwell a mountain to climb in the second leg.
It was Kuban manager Dorinel Munteanu’s first game in charge of the side from southern Russia - the Romanian was due to take over several weeks ago but became bogged down in a contract dispute with his last club.
Motherwell had its share of chances, but was left frustrated, especially when John Sutton hit the post in stoppage time. Earlier, Ian Vigurs had been repeatedly denied by Kuban's highly rated goalkeeper Alexander Belenov.
Kuban could also have scored more, as typified when Balde crashed a 20-yard effort against the bar in the first half. Late on, ex-Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse tested Motherwell keeper Lee Hollis.
This is Motherwell’s fourth attempt in five seasons to qualify for the Europa League group stage - the Lanarkshire side has yet to succeed.
Despite being one of Russia’s best supported sides, Kuban has no history of winning silverware. It qualified for Europe for the first time thanks to a fifth-place finish in last year’s Russian Premier League.
Earlier Thursday, Russia’s Rubin Kazan won 2-1 away in the first leg of its tie with Denmark’s Randers.