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Liverpool edge Hoffenheim in Champions League first leg playoff

MADRID - Liverpool took a step towards the Champions League group phase as they beat Hoffenheim 2-1 in Germany on Tuesday night, in the first leg qualifying playoff.

Elsewhere, Sporting Lisbon were unable to break down Steaua Bucharest in a 0-0 draw, while Qarabag FK beat FC Copenhagen 1-0; Apoel Nicosia beat Slavia Prague 2-0; and a stoppage-time own goal from Kasim Nuhu helped CSKA Moscow win 1-0 away at Young Boys.

At the Rhein-Neckar Arena Hoffenheim started well and were awarded a penalty when Serge Gnabry and Dejan Lovren collided.

However Simon Mignolet saved Andrej Kramaric's weak penalty before youngster Trent Alexander Arnold curled a perfect free-kick into the bottom right corner from over 25 yards to open the scoring in the 35th minute.

The Bundesliga side kept more of the ball but Liverpool were searching for opportunities to attack on the counter

Roberto Firmino missed a good chance to strike after Sadio Mane teed him up early in the second half, but Liverpool doubled their lead in the 74th minute, when James Milner's cross took a lucky deflection off Havard Nordtveit and swerved into the top corner.

However substitute Mark Uth sweetly controlled a long diagonal ball and drilled home in the 87th minute to give the hosts hope of a second leg comeback at Anfield.

"It's a thing of dreams to make your European debut for your boyhood club and especially to mark it with a goal," said Alexander-Arnold.

"We're disappointed with the late goal but it's good to take a lead back to Anfield. We know it won't be an easy game but we have strategies to beat them."

Liverpool are aiming to be the fifth English club in the Champions League group stage, but Hoffenheim will fancy their chances at getting at Jurgen Klopp's defence.

"We've played against Bayern and Borussia Dortmund and now to go to Anfield, it is something new for our players," Hoffenheim's head of international relations and scouting, Lutz Pfannenstiel told BBC Radio 5.

"Maybe they will be nervous or maybe they will grow wings and fly. It was a cracking goal and it keeps us alive. We showed we can play decent football and Liverpool showed they can kill you with two or three key movements."

Sporting Lisbon played out a tight goalless draw with Steaua Bucharest, unable to break the deadlock even after Mihai Pintilli was sent off with 10 minutes to go for a second yellow after fouling Fabio Coentrao.

"I hope that in the second leg the boys will manage another big scalp, after we eliminated Ajax some years ago. Unfortunately they will have to do it without me," said Pintilli.

"Nobody gave us a chance in this match and they won't for the second leg, but we play for our pride and for us as professionals."

Disaster struck for Young Boys in the final moments against CSKA, with Nuhu looping a header past goalkeeper David Von Ballmoos to hand the Russians victory, while victory was secured early for Apoel.

Igor De Camargo and Stathis Aloneftis both struck inside 10 minutes to give the Cypriots a commanding lead over Slavia Prague, which they held for the rest of the match with few scares.

Mair Madatov gave Azerbaijani club Qarabag hope of a first Champions League appearance with his 26th minute goal against Copenhagen, rolled home after Dino Ndlovu struck the post.

Qarabag have reached the Champions League playoffs three times before but failed to reach the competition itself on each occasion, while Copenhagen have twice progressed, including last season.

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