Liverpool, Juve make winning starts
European giants Liverpool and Juventus began life under new coaches with victories in the first legs of their UEFA Europa League third qualifying round ties on Thursday.
A David Ngog brace gave Roy Hodgson's Liverpool a 2-0 victory at Macedonian minnows Rabotnicki, while Luigi Del Neri oversaw an equally straightforward 2-0 win for the Italian side at Irish team Shamrock Rovers. Liverpool and Juve have had to undergo the ignominy of the Europa League preliminary rounds after each finished seventh in their respective leagues last season, prompting managerial changes at both Anfield and the Stadio Olimpico.
With ten FIFA World Cup™ players including Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole and Javier Mascherano all short of fitness, Hodgson fielded a team partly made up of fringe players at the Filip II Arena in Skopje. Liverpool took the lead in the 17th minute when Lucas picked out Ngog and the Frenchman capitalised on Egzon Belica's slip to dink the ball over goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov and then tap it into the empty net. Ngog made it 2-0 shortly before the hour when he crisply volleyed in Martin Kelly's right-wing cross from six yards out.
"There were a lot of players out there I need to learn about, as some of them I have hardly worked with," said Hodgson in praise of his young side. "It was a very good exercise in that respect."
Juve boss Del Neri handed first competitive starts to a number of new signings, including goalkeeper Marco Storari, former Bari centre-back Leonardo Bonucci and on-loan winger Pepe. Brazilian-Italian striker Amauri put the Serie A side ahead in the third minute in Dublin, finishing deftly after a sharp one-two with Diego, before netting his second with 15 minutes to play.
"I always felt we could go out and play the way we did and have patches where we could hassle them, but we knew it would be difficult to do that for 90 minutes against a side of their quality," said Shamrock boss Michael O'Neill. "In the end I couldn't have asked any more of the players."
Bundesliga side Stuttgart emerged from their game at Norwegians Molde with a 3-2 victory, but only after the hosts had twice fought back from a goal down. Sebastian Rudy's opener was cancelled out in the 65th minute by a fortunate goal from Mattias Mostrom, who charged down an attempted clearance and sent the ball bouncing past goalkeeper Sven Ulreich. Zdravko Kuzmanovic restored the visitors' lead with a free-kick in the 74th minute, only for Magne Hoseth to reply two minutes later, before substitute Martin Harnik's back-post header settled the game in the 82nd minute.
Elsewhere, Sporting Lisbon won 1-0 at Norway's Nordsjaelland and French side Montpellier prevailed 1-0 at Gyor of Hungary. A goal from new signing Dennis Rommedahl gave Greek giants Olympiacos a 2-1 win at home to Israelis Maccabi Tel-Aviv but Galatasaray let slip a 2-0 lead in the last 10 minutes to draw 2-2 against Serbia's OFK Beograd in Istanbul. Maritimo of Portugal enjoyed the night's biggest victory, winning 8-2 at home to Welsh outfit Bangor City.
The second legs take place on 3-5 August, with heavyweights such as Manchester City, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Porto all due to enter the competition in the following round.