Europa League groups remain unclaimed
If you thought yesterday’s Champions League was frantic, today’s Europa League topped it: 73 goals flew in across the continent on a busy day that saw some major upsets, some frantic comebacks and some inspired goals.
The biggest shock came in Bilbao, where struggling Athletic shocked moneybags Paris Saint-Germain 2-0, to take the top slot in Group F by a full three points. A brilliant volley from Igor Gabilondo opened the scoring in the 20th minute, then Markel Susaeta brought the hammer down in the first half stoppage with a thrasher that sent Antoine Kombouaré’s side to the locker room in a state of shock. Matters only worsened when Mohamed Sissoko was tossed just six minutes after the restart for a rash foul on Iker Muniain. PSG never recovered. For Bilbao manager Marcelo Bielsa, the win was especially sweet: Athletic have not won a single game to date at home and the pressure was on the ‘Madman’ to deliver a positive result for club supporters.
Tottenham got a scare from tiny Shamrock Rovers after a dazzling display by keeper Richard Brush kept Spurs off the sheet for an hour. Then, Stephen Rice tucked home the rebound of Gary Twigg’s long shot and the Irishmen opened the scoring line. Was this to be a great upset? No. Roman Pavyluchenko restored order when he headed home a super cross from Giovanni dos Santos, and Jermaine Defoe performed almost the same feat from Andros Townsend’s service a minute later. Dos Santos, always dangerous on the night, would add a third of his own.
The news was more mixed for Glasgow Celtic. Italy’s Udinese were stunned, as Gary Hooper was rightly awarded a penalty in just the second minute of action. Ki Sung-Yong smacked home from the spot, but the Italians surely felt they could get back into the match. For 86 minutes, they couldn’t, but a very controversial penalty call on Hooper allowed Almen Abdi to snatch a 1-1 draw. Unfortunately for Celtic, they remain bottom of Group I.
Stoke kept right on rolling with a solid 2-1 comeback win over Besiktas after Jon Walters converted a decisive penalty kick after Peter Crouch was toppled in the box. Besiktas looked uncomfortable all night under the Potters’ aerial attacks and despite rapid traveling support, could not hold an early lead. The win gives Stoke full possession of Group E.
In Portugal, Brugge pulled off a massive upset as Ryna Donk’s late header gave the Belgians a 2-1 win over Braga. It was Braga’s first defeat of the season across all play and gave the Belgians total control of Group H.
Rennes were held at home by Atletico Madrid in a gripping encounter punctuated by Juanfran’s late equalizer to snatch the 1-1 draw. Both goals were delicious: Victor Montano’s opener was a thunderbolt that nicked off Alvaro Dominguez’ rump and in; Juanfran’s goal was a left-footed firecracker that puffed the rood of the net after whipping into the left corner.
Americans saw a lot of action tonight with Jozy Altidore scoring a peach of a goal for AZ Alkmaar to give his Dutch side a lead they could not hold. Metalist Kharkiv would respond with just under 15 minutes to play thanks to a low ripper from Taison to grab a share of the points at home. Fulham’s Clint Dempsey terrorized Odense BK all night long in Denmark, setting up the first of two goals from Andrew Johnson that gave the Cottagers a share of the Group K points lead.
Hannover chuckled their way through a 2-1 win at Vorskla in the Ukraine and were nearly punished for their insouciance. Steve Cherundolo wore the armband as the Germans jumped out to an early lead thanks to two very easy goals that left his counterpart, keeper Serhiy Dolganskiy incandescent. But after the break, the Ukranians tighted things up and a goal from Oleksiy Kurilov gave them an in with a full 40 minutes to play. They shelled keeper Ron-Robert Zieler and were lucky to escape with a share of the Group B lead.
Oguchi Onyewu saw his Sporting Lisbon side reduced to ten men after Emiliano Insúa was sent off apparently for dissent. It mattered not as the Portuguese took advantage of a sloppy Lazio defense to get a deserved 2-1 win behind a fabulous goal from Miroslav Klose to seize sole possession of Group D. Sacha Kljestan’s Anderlecht coasted to a surprisingly easy 2-0 win in Moscow over Lokomotiv as the Muscovites hit everything in the stadium. Similarly, Jermaine Jones was a late sub for Schalke as they eased to a 3-1 win over Maccabi Haifa.
One American who had a night he’d rather forget was Birmingham’s Jonathan Spector: his back pass to keeper Colin Doyle was poorly placed and Doyle’s attempt to clean it up nothing short of laughable. That gifted Dalibor Volaš an easy goal and for a while it seemed as if it was going to be another grim night for the Blues. But Birmingham shocked Maribor with two second-half goals including a volley from Wade Elliot to win it that keeper Jasmin Handanovic got to — then allowed to wriggle under his mitts — to trickle into the net. Birmingham is now on the board on Group H.
In other games, Rubin Kazan conceded a late goal to drop points at home with a 2-2 draw against PAOK. Austria Wien had Alexander Gruenwald sent off but still got a comfy 2-1 win over Malmo of Sweden. AEK Larnaca of Nicosia drew 1-1 with Steaua Bucuresti while their more famous namesakes of Greece (AEK Athens) lost 2-1 at home to Sturm Graz.
FC Twente were simply too good for Wisla Krakow, with Luuk de Jong and Marc Janko showing their scoring class in a 4-1 rout. The same was true for Standard Liege, who turned a lead built by Luis Manuel Seijas into a 3-0 drubbing of Copenhagen. PSV did much the same to Rapid Bucharest, winning on the road 3-1 in a game they left late while bossing matters throughout. In Group F, Red Bull Salzburg coasted to a 3-0 win over Slovan Bratislava to secure their first points in the tournament.
Vaslui got a decent 2-2 home draw with Zurich after Raphael Kock was sent off for the Swiss visitors. Maccabi Tel Aviv were able to get a 1-1 home draw with Dynamo Kiev that gave each team a solid point in Group E.
Last but hardly least, the wildest game of the night might have been in Warsaw, where Legia pulled out a 3-2 win over Hapoel Tel-Aviv that saw the lead change hands four times. First rescued by the elaborately coiffed Danijel Ljuboja on a set-piece, Legia finally got the win with a minute to spare when Miroslav Radovic headed the winner home past Edel Apoula. The result sent the white-clad legion of fans into delirium, shaking the foundations of Wojska Polskiego. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was thrilling soccer.
FOX Soccer will be the new home of the Europa League in 2012, bringing you all the action live across the FOX family of networks. Europa League play resumes in three weeks, with matches kicking off October 20th.