Favourites Liverpool began their UEFA Europa League campaign with a narrow 1-0 victory over Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni in the home leg of their Round of 32 tie on Thursday.
The five-time European champions dropped down to the continent's second-tier competition after their elimination at the group phase of the UEFA Champions League and they were far from fluent against Roni Levi's underdogs.
The hosts spurned a series of chances before David Ngog secured the breakthrough in the 81st minute. The Frenchman scored with a close-range diving header after Ryan Babel's raking cross had been knocked down by 19-year-old substitute Daniel Pacheco, to hand Rafael Benitez's side a slim advantage ahead of the return leg on 25 February.
"I think we'll get more joy away from home against them," said Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. "They'll have to come out and try to beat us. I'm confident we can win more convincingly away from home."
Reigning UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar Donetsk went down to an unexpected 2-1 defeat at Fulham, after England hopeful Bobby Zamora scored a sensational winner with a powerful shot into the top-right corner in the 63rd minute.
"We got to grips with them a bit better in the second half and pushed them into a few errors. It was a great goal from Bobby which took the pressure off us defensively," said the Londoners' midfielder Danny Murphy. "We have got something to fight for now, it will be a great game over there."
Serie A title challengers Roma, meanwhile, saw their 20-match unbeaten run come to an abrupt halt in a dramatic 3-2 loss to Greek side Panathinaikos. The hosts trailed twice but levelled in the 84th minute through Lazaros Hristodoulopoulos before former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse fired in the winner a minute from time.
Earlier, two headed goals from Brazilian striker Amauri earned Juventus a precious 2-1 lead over Ajax following the first leg of their tie in Amsterdam. The South American struck either side of half-time in response to Miralem Sulejmani's 16th-minute opener to give Alberto Zaccheroni victory in his first European game in charge since replacing the sacked Ciro Ferrara.
"It's an important victory at an important time," said Zaccheroni, whose side have endured an underwhelming season in which they have failed to mount a sustained title challenge on the domestic front. "I said before the match that if we were going to be under pressure we would have to strike at the right moment. That's what happened."
Last season's beaten UEFA Cup finalists Werder Bremen lost 1-0 in the away leg of their tie with former England coach Steve McClaren's FC Twente, who prevailed through Theo Janssen's 39th-minute goal. Misfiring German champions Wolfsburg, 23 points off the pace in the defence of their Bundesliga title, drew 2-2 at Villarreal, while Belgian outfit Club Brugge secured a famous 1-0 victory against 10-man Valencia, who are currently third in the Spanish top flight.
Early bath for Silva
Spain international midfielder David Silva saw red for the visitors after picking up a second yellow card early in the second half and Brugge took immediate advantage thanks to Dorge Kouemaha's 56th-minute winner. Hamburg defeated Dutch heavyweights PSV Eindhoven 1-0, while Marseille won 3-1 at FC Copenhagen and Atletico Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Turkish side Galatasaray.
Russian champions Rubin Kazan planted one foot in the last 16 after Aleksandr Bukharov scored a well-taken brace in a 3-0 win at home to Israel's Hapoel Tel-Aviv, with high-flying French side Lille edging Fenerbahce 2-1 in northern France. Standard Liege of Belgium mounted a stirring comeback at home to Red Bull Salzburg, fighting back from 2-0 down at half-time to win 3-2 thanks to second-half strikes from Igor De Camargo and an Axel Witsel double.
Liverpool's Merseyside neighbours Everton were in action on Tuesday, when they edged Sporting Lisbon 2-1 in the first leg of their tie at Goodison Park.