Liverpool were left to regret a string of missed chances as Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg completed a convincing 2-0 victory in their UEFA Europa League last-32, first leg match tonight. Two goals in three minutes midway through the second half turned the tide in Zenit's favour after both sides had squandered several opportunities in Russia's former Imperial capital. The result will no doubt make the return leg at Anfield an uphill climb for the Reds.
Big-money Brazilian signing Hulk put the Russians ahead in the 69th minute with a blistering shot from the edge of the area which just clipped Martin Skrtel to wrong-foot Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Then on 72 minutes, Sergei Semak turned up the heat on Liverpool when he ghosted in behind Skrtel and Glenn Johnson to arrive unmarked on the left to clinically dispatch Aleksandr Anyukov's cross past Reina.
Also in Russia, Anzhi Makhachkala beat Germany's Hannover 3-1, despite falling behind to Szabolcs Huszti's 22nd minute strike. Samuel Eto'o put them back on terms, the former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker tapping in a pass from Willian. Odil Ahmedov put the Russian side ahead just after the break before Moroccan midfielder Mbark Boussoufa sealed it in the 64th minute.
In the Czech Republic, Chelsea substitute Oscar wasted no time getting his name on the scoresheet, grabbing the only goal of a largely lacklustre game in the 82nd minute against Sparta Prague, just 45 seconds of coming off the bench. Oscar collected a ball from Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard and fired home into the bottom corner of the net.
Fenerbahce held BATE Borisov to a goalless draw in Belarus despite playing all bar the first three minutes with ten men. The visitors had Raul Meireles sent off early on but were not made to pay, with BATE's finishing not up to the task and goalkeeper Volkan Demirel up to the challenge when he was called upon.
Napoli's players had to face the wrath of the club's passionate fans at the end of a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing at home to Viktoria Plzen. Once Vladimir Darida had put the Czech side ahead, Napoli were always playing catch-up and were exposed when Frantisek Rajtoral doubled the lead in the 79th minute and it only got worse as they went in search of a consolation goal and Stanislav Teci made it 3-0 a minute from time.
In Amsterdam, Ajax outplayed Steaua Bucharest of Romania 2-0 with goals from Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld and promising right back Ricardo van Rhijn, while Benfica grabbed victory away to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, with Oscar Cardozo scoring the only goal of the game on the hour.
Heading south into Valencia, Levante overwhelmed Olympiakos of Greece 3-0. Pedro Rios set the ball rolling as early as the ninth minute and a Jose Barkero penalty five minutes before the break and an Obafemi Martins strike in the 56th minute finished off the Greeks.
French side Bordeaux came away from the Ukraine with a valuable 1-1 draw against Dynamo Kiev with Ludovic Obraniak's 23rd minute equaliser cancelling out Nigerian international, Lukman Haruna's opener three minutes earlier.
Bale's brace highlights evening fixtures
In the evening matches, Newcastle were held 0-0 at home by Metalist Kharkiv in a game in which the English side's striker Papiss Cisse had two goals chalked off for offside.
Gareth Bale struck two magical free-kicks as Tottenham Hotspur edged Lyon 2-1. Bale beat Lyon keeper Remy Vercoutre with a dipping 35-yard free-kick on the stroke of half-time at White Hart Lane and then repeated the precision in the third minute of injury time at the end of the first leg tie. In between, Samuel Umtiti had buried a fierce drive past Brad Friedel in the Spurs goal to keep the French side in the tie.
Atletico Madrid's hopes of retaining their Europa League title suffered a 2-0 blow after they were defeated by Rubin Kazan at the Vicente Calderon, despite playing for half the game with an extra man. Gokdeniz Karadeniz gave the visitors a dream start when he netted after five minutes and then a moment of madness by Atletico goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo gifted Pablo Orbaiz a second goal in stoppage time as Rubin claimed a potentially decisive advantage.
Substitute Libor Kozak netted a brace to help ten-man Lazio gain the upper hand in their 3-3 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach following a breathless first leg that saw the home side awarded three penalties.
A last-minute goal from Glynor Plet gave Genk a precious away goal as they held Stuttgart to a 1-1 draw at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Juande Ramos' chances of becoming only the second manager to win the Europa League for a third time may have to wait another year after his Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk side were beaten by Basel 2-0 at St. Jakob-Park. A first-half goal from Valentin Stocker and a second-half strike from Marco Streller ensured the Swiss side head into next week's second leg at the Dnipro Stadium in control.
Rodrigo Palacio scored twice following his early entrance as a substitute to put Inter Milan in control of their tie against Cluj. Palacio, a tenth-minute replacement after a serious-looking injury to Diego Milito, scored ten minutes into his evening and added a late second with four minutes to spare. Those two goals, coupled with a clean sheet, meant next week's trip to Transylvania for the second leg should hold few terrors for the Serie A side.