Defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk opened the group stages of UEFA’s new-look Europa League with a comfortable 4-1 win away to Belgian club Bruges on Thursday night.
The Ukrainian side, who won the final edition of the UEFA Cup last season after being knocked out of the Champions League group stage, went 3-0 ahead in the first 35 minutes to clinch their first win at the Jan Breydel Stadium in four attempts. It was a sweet victory for coach Mircea Lucescu, who suffered four losses to Belgian sides while coach of Romania’s Dinamo Bucuresti. Oleksiy Gai opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a low drive, then Willian doubled the lead seven minutes later when he turned inside Jeroen Simaeys and curled a shot past goalkeeper Geert De Vlieger. Croatia star Darijo Srna wrongfooted De Vlieger with a trademark free-kick 10 minutes before halftime, while midfielder Karel Geraerts gave the visitors hope on 62 — but substitute Konstyantyn Kravchenko sealed victory with 15 minutes to go with another fine solo set-piece. In Thursday’s other Group J tie, French club Toulouse won 3-2 away to Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade. In Group I, English club Everton shrugged off their poor domestic form to win 4-0 at home to AEK Athens, who had Carlos Araujo sent off in the 55th minute for lashing a leg at the groin of Sylvain Distin. Everton — who paraded a new signing, Australia defender Lucas Neill, before the match — were already 3-0 ahead at halftime.
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Joseph Yobo’s 10th-minute header was followed by a close-range finish by summer signing Distin from another corner seven minutes later, and a superb right-foot effort by Steven Pienaar on 37. Striker Jo made it 4-0 in the 82nd minute but substitute Louis Saha was sent off in stoppage time for raising his hand to Athens defender Juanfran and will miss the next match against BATE Borisov. The Belarussian side lost 2-0 at home to Portugal’s Benfica in the other Group I match. In Group G, Austrian side Salzburg won 2-1 away to Italian club Lazio with late goals from Marc Janko and Franz Schiemer, the latter coming three minutes into time added on. Spain’s Villarreal edged out Bulgarian visitors Levski Sofia with a 1-0 victory as striker Nilmar added to his recent hat-trick for Brazil with a 72nd-minute winner after good play out wide by substitute Giuseppe Rossi. In Group H, Dutch club Twente Enschede traveled to Turkey and came away with a 2-1 victory against Fenerbahce thanks to two goals in the final 15 minutes from Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo after Mehmet Topuz’s 71st-minute free-kick. Former European champions Steaua Bucuresti were held 0-0 at home by Moldovan newcomers FC Sheriff in a match played behind closed doors. In Group K, Romania’s CFR Cluj — who impressed in the Champions League last season — won 2-0 at home to Danish side Copenhagen with second-half goals from Juan Culio and substitute Lacina Traore. Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven battled back to earn a 2-2 draw away to Sparta Prague in the Czech capital, as substitute Jonathan Reis to equalize twice for the visitors — the second a penalty in injury-time after Bony Wilfried fouled Danko Lazovic. In Group L, Spain’s Athletic Bilbao were convincing 3-0 winners at home to Austria Vienna as Fernando Llorente scored a penalty and a spectacular volley within the first 25 minutes, then 16-year-old Iker Muniain capped the victory with a goal on the hour. German side Werder Bremen blew a two-goal lead before snatching a 3-2 victory away to Portugal’s Nacional as Claudio Pizarro scored his second goal with five minutes left in Madeira.