Two goals from Taiwo Awoniyi, one for Max Kruse and one for Andreas Voglsammer ensured 1. FC Union Berlin's first European match since 2001 ended in victory.
The three first-half goals for the Köpenick club secure a strong lead to bring back to Berlin for next Thursday's return leg with a place in the group stages on the line. Voglsammer's fourth in stoppage time at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki was the icing on the cake with several hundred Union fans in attendance.
KuPS: Kreidl; Uzochokwu (Aspegren 45), Toivomaki, Ricardo, Ngwa (Udoh 45), Carrillo; Adjei-Boateng (Vidjeskog 79), Sebban, Popovitch; Väyrynen (Rangel 45), Ikaunieks (Haarala 79)
1. FC Union Berlin: Luthe; Friedrich, Knoche, Baumgartl; Puchacz (Gießelmann 71), Trimmel, Öztunali (Teuchert 85), Haraguchi (Ingvartsen 71), Khedira; Kruse (Becker 60), Awoniyi (Voglsammer 60)
Saturday's 1-1 draw at home to Bayer Leverkusen kicked off Union's third successive campaign in Germany's Bundesliga. With morale high in the squad, Urs Fischer's side headed to Helsinki to face KuPS of Finland in a play-off tie for a spot in the UEFA Europa Conference League group stages. The Swiss coach made two changes from Saturday – Niko Gießelmann was replaced by Tymoteusz Puchacz and Levin Öztunali was in for Marcus Ingvartsen. Union's Polish international left-back, who represented his country at the European Championship, has experienced up and down summer with an infection during pre-season. He needed a break – and he got it after seven minutes in Helsinki. A great dribble set up the Pole to make the cross for Taiwo Awoniyi to thump home Union's first European goal of the season. Puchcaz was given a ton of space to power down the left-hand side with Max Kruse's intelligence causing problems for Finland's most recent Cup winners. Second in the Finnish top division under Simo Valakari, KuPS committed bodies forward early on Janis Ikaunieks and Bismarck Adjei-Boateng looking lively. Kruse combined with Puchacz and the left-back was denied a goal for himself after a quarter of an hour. With Union in control, the speed of the game definitely dipped for a period of 10-15 minutes. But Fischer's side always carried a punch on the counterattack and some effective pressing in midfield created a double. Genki Haraguchi picked up a second ball, released Awoniyi and Kruse with the German Olympian finishing off from the right on his weaker foot. A minute later, Kruse turned provider after Öztunali won the ball back. Awoniyi swivelled on the edge of the box and finished superbly with his left foot past Austrian goalkeeper Johannes Kreidl. A focused performance from the Bundesliga and the three first-half goals was precisely what Fischer would have wanted from his players going into the interval.
Union remained in control after the half time as KuPS struggled to get going. Levin Öztunali's cross almost looped over the goalkeeper before the summer signing laid off to Awoniyi who passed up the opportunity to score a memorable hat-trick. With matches coming thick-and-fast, Awoniyi and Kruse went off after an hour, replaced by Andreas Voglsammer and Sheraldo Becker. The Suriname international was at the Gold Cup in the summer and Thursday's appearance was his first of the 21/22 in red. Fischer rotated around 71 minutes with Niko Gießelmann and Marcus Ingvartsen coming on in place of Puchacz and Haraguchi. While the three goals knocked the stuffing out of KuPS, they did fight their way back into the game having not thrown in the towel. The hero of KuPS' third qualifying round win in Astana Lucas Rangel forced an excellent save out of the Union goalkeeper Andreas Luthe from close range. From the resulting corner kick, central defender Toivomäki headed off the crossbar. But Union would get the last word with Cedric Teuchert using his fresh legs to run most of the pitch before setting up Andreas Voglsammer for a routine tap-in to make it four.
Union's focus will return back to three points in the Bundesliga on Sunday (15:30) in Hoffenheim. However, next week, KuPS will travel to Berlin for the second leg and a shot at the group stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League. Tickets are on sale for the 20:15 kick-off in the Olympic Stadium here.