Napoli come back to tie against Leicester; West Ham, Real Betis, and Lyon win in the UEFA Europa League
The Europa League kicked off with a bang, with 15 games packed into a packed schedule.
The Europa League makes its long-awaited return with 15 games involving some of Europe’s best clubs, emerging stars from around the continent, and underdogs all vying for a spot in the final in Sevilla in May.
All of the Europa League action can be seen on Paramount+, as it usually is.
With a 2-0 victory against Dinamo Zagreb, West Ham kicked off their first-ever group stage campaign in style. Real Betis fought back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Celtic 4-3 at home, while Galatasaray defeated Lazio thanks to a goalie mistake by Thomas Strakhosa. Meanwhile, Napoli came back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 against Leicester City, while Lyon and Monaco won their respective games later in the day.
Tottenham’s Europa League campaign got off to a shaky start at Rennes, when they were held to a 2-2 draw. Union Berlin of the Bundesliga lost 3-1 to Slavia Prague, while Roma overcame CSKA Sofia 5-1 after an early wobble.
The results from the Europa League
Rangers 2 Lyon 0 in Group A
Brondby drew with Sparta Prague 0 to 0 in Group A.
Real Sociedad 2 PSV Eindhoven 2
Monaco defeats Sturm Graz 1-0 in Group B.
Spartak Moscow drew with Legia Warsaw 1 to 1 in Group C.
Leicester City and Napoli are tied for second place in Group C.
Eintracht Frankfurt drew 1-1 with Fenerbahce in Group D.
Olympiacos drew with Antwerp 1 in Group D.
Lokomotiv Moscow defeated Marseille 1 to 1 in Group E.
Galatasaray defeated Lazio 1-0 in Group E.
Group F: Ludogorets Razgrad 1, Midtjylland 1.
Red Star Belgrade leads Group F with a 2-0 victory against Braga.
Bayer Leverkusen drew with Ferencvaros in Group G.
Real Betis won 4-3 over Celtic in Group G.
Dinamo Zagreb drew 1-1 with West Ham United in Group H.
Rapid Vienna 1 vs. Genk 1 in Group H
The day’s sport
Real Betis won by a score of 4 to 3 over Celtic. Seville’s water is obviously contaminated.
Following four penalties in Tuesday’s Champions League match between Sevilla and Red Bull Salzburg, the first half of Thursday’s match at the Estadio Benito Villamarin saw Celtic’s surprisingly good start to the group stages come to a halt.
In 27 minutes, Albian Ajeti and Josip Juranovic had put the visitors ahead, but they have swept away in 21 exciting minutes on each side of halftime, with Juanmi scoring a hat trick and Juan Miranda and Borja Iglesias also scoring.
Betis’ second goal was the best of the three, with veteran winger Joaquin pinging a beautiful ball in between two Celtic players for Iglesias to square for Juanmi.
Celtic, to their credit, would not surrender, and Anthony Raltson’s header in the 87th minute gave them optimism, even though the opportunity for an equaliser never materialised. With Bayer Leverkusen winning the other match in Group G, the Scottish giants will need a strong run of wins to advance to the knockout stages.
The day’s objective
Choose from a variety of options. Karl Toko Ekambi’s beautiful curling shot from far beyond the box may have been the finest pure finish of the night, while Mesut Ozil scored one of his trademarks “how did he score from there” goals for Fenerbahce against Eintracht Frankfurt.
There was also plenty of talent in the Leicester City vs. Napoli match. Ayoze Perez’s thunderous back-post shot was made even better by the way it cannoned off David Ospina’s knees.
Victor Osimhen’s double lob, first over the defender and then over Kasper Schmeichel, was superior and maybe should have been the winner.
Thomas Strakhosa’s strange own goal for Lazio, which handed Galatasaray three points, has to be seen to be believed.
But none compares to Declan Rice’s stunning goal, which earned West Ham three crucial points in their first-ever European group stage encounter.
The England international began running after intercepting a ball just inside his own half and kept going and going and going. Rice did not need Michail Antonio, who was making a spaced-out run down the right side, smashing the ball low between Dominik Livakovic’s legs.
His first game for West Ham in Europe. In all tournaments, he has a total of 150 points. There was no better way to commemorate it.
Today’s player is
You might be excused for thinking it was 2014 all over again when watching Mario Gotze on Thursday. With a fantastic performance in PSV’s 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad, the PSV striker harkened back to the days when he was the most exciting teenager in the world.
It began promisingly enough, with a poacher’s finish when he snatched the rebound from Noni Madueke’s effort to put the Dutch in front.
But the big storey here was his assist on Cody Gakpo’s equaliser. There is just one nutmeg. Then there was another. The ball was then delivered to the teenage winger at the perfect time for him to score.
This was Gotze rolling back the years, a reminder that he was still a great player, even if he never fully progressed from the wonderkid who won the World Cup seven years ago.
He’ll have to settle for second place behind the excellent Osimhen, who showed he’s the full deal by scoring both goals in Napoli’s vital 2-2 draw at Leicester City. The Nigerian’s speed was so deadly in the first half that Brendan Rodgers felt he had no option but to take Jonny Evans off. Caglar Soyuncu, on the other hand, had no success.
First, a fantastic team move finished with Napoli’s No. 9 lobbing the goalie, defeating Leicester’s defence. After 18 minutes, Osimhen surged above the Leicester defence, pinning Soyuncu with his elbow solidly and fairly before guiding a well-directed header beyond Schmeichel.
Napoli seemed to be doomed, but their youthful attacker came through for them in a spectacular manner.
Meanwhile, in the Conference League…
UEFA’s new third-tier competition was created with the intention of allowing teams from lower divisions to compete for European trophies, but some, including this column, believed that the big boys would find the Conference League to be a breeze.
That may still be the case, but it wasn’t the case on Matchday 1 when Tottenham had to come back from a huge deficit to draw with Rennes.
Spurs would have known Roazhon Park would be a difficult place to visit, as the Ligue 1 side had won two of their three home games against English competition before Thursday night. If Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg hadn’t scored late, it might have been three from four.
Union Berlin was defeated 3-1 by Slavia Prague in the final 10 minutes, with Jan Kuchta and Ivan Schranz
scoring for the Czech side. CSKA Sofia defeated Roma 5-1, but only after Irish player Graham Carey,
previously of League One club Plymouth, sent a frightening shot past Rui Patricio from a tight angle to
give the Bulgarian side the lead.
What comes next?
There will be time for one more round of matches before the international break, with the second round
of the Europa League and Conference League taking place on September 30.