There were goals, upsets and plenty of talking points all around the continent as the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League group stage got under way in dramatic fashion, Reelradio.com.ng reports.
LASK 1-3 Liverpool
In Austria, three-time UEFA Cup winners Liverpool mounted another comeback to get off to a winning start in Group E.
Darwin Núñez’s coolly-taken penalty, Luis Díaz’s emphatic finish and substitute Mohamed Salah’s close-range strike cancelled out Florian Flecker’s stunning early drive from the edge of the area.
Key stat: Liverpool came from behind to seal victory for the fourth time in five matches across all competitions this season.
West Ham 3-1 TSC Bačka Topola
The Serbian side weathered first-half pressure and hit the bar just before the break before taking the lead early in the second half when Petar Stanić robbed Angelo Ogbonna and raced through to score.
West Ham struggled to respond, but levelled when Nemanja Petrović turned Said Benrahma’s cross into his own net. James Ward-Prowse corners then set up Mohammed Kudus and Tomáš Souček to finish as the Hammers belatedly pressed home advantage.
Key stat: Summer signing Ward-Prowse now has five assists in as many matches in the Premier League and UEFA Europa League this season.
Rangers 1-0 Real Betis
The losing 2022 finalists marked their Europa League return with a pulsating win as they got the better of the Seville side at Ibrox.
The Spanish team dominated initially but their hosts responded well after the interval, hitting the woodwork through Tom Lawrence and then Borna Barišić before Abdallah Sima forced in the winning goal from close range midway through the second half.
Key stat: The result is Rangers’ first win against Spanish opponents in 15 matches (D7 L8) since they defeated Osasuna in September 1985.
Brighton 2-3 AEK Athens
The European debutants were edged out as AEK snatched a late winner. Djibril Sidibé broke the deadlock for the visitors with a thumping header but João Pedro coolly slotted in the equaliser from the penalty spot.
Mijat Gaćinović turned in a free-kick to make it 2-1 at half-time but João Pedro levelled from another spot-kick on 67 minutes, only for Ezequiel Ponce to put away the winner on the break six minutes from time.
Key stat: Brighton’s James Milner became the first player to represent five English teams in European competition, having previously turned out for Aston Villa, Newcastle, Man City and Liverpool.
Ajax 3-3 Marseille
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice as OM came from behind to earn a point against ten-man Ajax. Jonathan Clauss and Aubameyang cancelled out Carlos Borges’ and Steven Berghuis’s strikes before half-time in Amsterdam.
Kenneth Taylor struck after the restart for Ajax, who had Silvano Vos sent off before Aubameyang rescued a point later on.
Key stat: Aubameyang has now scored 26 goals in the Europa League, with only Radamel Falcao (30) having hit more goals in the competition.
Olympiacos 2-3 Freiburg
Freiburg made a winning start in Group A. Roland Sallai scored early on for the Bundesliga outfit but Ayoub El Kaabi equalised after 40 minutes only for Vincenzo Grifo to restore the visitors’ advantage with a penalty in first-half added time.
El Kaabi equalised again in the 75th minute yet substitute Maximilian Philipp produced a composed finish 11 minutes later to win the game.
Key stat: It is 12 years since Olympiacos last beat a German club on home soil.
• The first goal of the 2023/24 group stage came 55 seconds into Rennes’ 3-0 home win against Maccabi Haifa in Group F.
• With Union SG, Victor Boniface finished joint top scorer (alongside Man United’s Marcus Rashford) in the 2022/23 Europa League; he opened his account for the 2023/24 campaign as his new side, Leverkusen, won 4-0 against Häcken.
• Europa League runners-up last season (and inaugural Europa Conference League winners in 2021/22), José Mourinho’s Roma kicked off with a 2-1 success at Sheriff, Romelu Lukaku clinching victory in the 65th minute.
All the Matchday 1 results
Group A: West Ham 3-1 TSC, Olympiacos 2-3 Freiburg
Group B: Ajax 3-3 Marseille, Brighton 2-3 AEK Athens
Group C: Sparta Praha 3-2 Aris Limassol, Rangers 1-0 Real Betis
Group D: Atalanta 2-0 Raków Czestochowa, Sturm Graz 1-2 Sporting CP
Group E: LASK 1-3 Liverpool, Union SG 1-1 Toulouse
Group F: Rennes 3-0 Maccabi Haifa, Panathinaikos 2-0 Villarreal
Group G: Servette 0-2 Slavia Praha, Sheriff Tiraspol 1-2 Roma
Group H: Leverkusen 4-0 Häcken, Qarabağ 1-0 Molde