Lazio, Celtic struggle as Europa begins
Italian giants Lazio were fortunate to escape with a 2-2 draw against Romanian side Vaslui in their opening UEFA Europa League Group D clash at the Stadio Olimpico tonight.
Edy Reja's men played the last half-hour with 10 men following the dismissal of defender Luciano Zauri and had to rely on Giuseppe Sculli's 71st-minute strike to avoid deeper embarrassment. Djibril Cisse's 35th-minute penalty had given the hosts the lead, but a brace from Brazilian Wesley early in the second half gave Vaslui the scent of glory before Sculli came to the rescue.
In the same pool, Sporting Lisbon made a more impressive start with a 2-0 win over FC Zurich in Switzerland. Emiliano Insua opened the scoring after four minutes and Ricky van Wolfswinkel added a second.
Former European champions PSV Eindhoven relied on a piece of magic from Dries Mertens to nudge past visitors Legia Warsaw 1-0 in Group C. The Belgium winger lashed home the only goal of the game after 21 minutes.
Stoke came agonisingly close to claiming a famous victory over Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine after Cameron Jerome's 55th-minute opener, only for Ognjen Vukojevic to fire home a stoppage-time equaliser.
Besiktas strolled to the top of Group E with a 5-1 triumph over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in a highly-charged atmosphere in Istanbul. In Group A, Tottenham were held to a goalless draw by PAOK in Salonika while Shamrock Rovers, the first Irish side ever to reach the group stages, were humbled 3-0 by Rubin Kazan in Dublin.
Paris St Germain got their Group F campaign off to a strong start with a 3-1 win over Salzburg while in the same group Athletic Bilbao grabbed a 2-1 victory at Slovan Bratislava. Hannover and Standard Liege played out a painfully uninspiring goalless draw in their Group B opener in Germany, while Morten Nordstrand's second-half penalty settled a low-key encounter in FC Copenhagen's favour as they edged Ukrainian side Vorskla 1-0 in Denmark.
Celtic's late reprieve after Sion were thrown out for fielding ineligible players turned into a harsh reality as goals from Radamel Falcao and Diego gave Atletico Madrid a comfortable 2-0 win in Group I. In the same group a late winner by Pablo Armero helped Udinese get over their UEFA Champions League elimination by Arsenal with a 2-1 win over Stade Rennes, who had led early through Youssouf Hadji.
Fulham were left frustrated by a 1-1 draw against FC Twente at Craven Cottage in Group K. Andrew Johnson put the Londoners in front but Luuk de John equalised for the Dutchmen just before half time. Last year's losing finalists Braga made a fine start in Group H, brushing aside feeble Birmingham 3-1 at St Andrew's thanks to a double from Helder Barbosa and one for Brazilian Lima.
Matias Suarez hit a hat-trick as Anderlecht thrashed AEK Athens 4-1 in their Group L opener in Belgium, while Schalke could not break through a resolute Steaua Bucharest defence and had to settle for a goalless draw in Group J.
In Group G, goals from Jozy Altidore, Rasmus Elm, Adam Maher and Brett Holman earned AZ Alkmaar a crushing 4-1 win over Malmo, whose consolation came from a 72nd-minute Daniel Larsson penalty. Also in Group G, Ukrainians Metalist Kharkv hit back from a goal behind to win 2-1 away to Austria Vienna. Second-half goals from Papa Gueye and Cleiton Xavier cancelled out Tomas Jun's early effort.
In Group H Club Brugge beat Maribor 2-0 with early goals from Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe and Nabil Dirar, while Maccabi Haifa shrugged off a poor domestic campaign to edge AEK Larnaca via Mohammad Ghadir's only goal in Group J. Danish side Odense swept to a surprise 3-1 win over Wisla Krakow in Poland and in Group L Lokomotiv Moscow came from behind to win 2-1 at Sturm Graz with goals from Victor Obinna and Dimtri Sychev.