The Europa League group stages began last night with little to no fanfare as its bigger brother the Champions League cast its glorious shadow over the European football landscape for another season. However, it often showcases some of the best football as it has been seen in previous years. Porto impressed many with their performance last year and it all began again to see who will win the second most prestigious trophy of the European football calendar.
Britain’s interest is five-fold, with teams from the Premier League, SPL and even the Championship being represented. Sadly, none of them managed to get a positive result, with draws only being the positive outlook on last nights action.
Celtic failed to overcome the 2010 champions Atletico Madrid in Madrid as they dominated the lions share of possession an Celtic never really looked like getting all three points. Birmingham showed some fight against a decent Braga side with Nathan Redmond impressing, only to succumb to the Portuguese side, eventually losing 3-1. Tottenham managed to get away from Salonika with a goalless draw, even though Lino missed a penalty for PAOK and Vladimir Ivic hit the crossbar.
Stoke almost managed to score a huge upset in Kyiv against Dynamo when Cameron Jerome scored in the 55th minute. However it was heartbreak for Tony Pulis’ men as Kyiv scored in the 91st minute to deny Stoke three points. Fulham looke in control against FC Twente when Andrew Johnson scored, only for defensive errors to cost them dear as Twente’s Luuk De Jong headed only, again denying another British team all three points.
The fairytale story of Shamrock Rovers ended in disappointment as Rubin Kazan brushed them aside 3-0. The neutral would love to see the Irish side go far in this competition, but with a group including Tottenham Hotspur and PAOK, it could be tough for them.
The Paris-St. Germain revolution began with a comprehensive 3-1 win against Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg. Alongside their impressive league form (three wins in five league games with only one defeat) the odds-on favourites to win this competition could be the beginning of another future super-power in European football. And my oh my, have PSG been a sleeping giant in recent years.
In the most exciting game, Besiktas had the biggest result of match-day 1, brushing aside Maccabi Tel Aviv 5-1, with Hugo Almeida grabbing a brace. AZ Alkmaar also stamped their authority on the competition, beating Malmo 4-1.
And finally, Lazio suffered a shocking setback as they had to come from behind to draw with Romanian side FC Vaslui. Lazio were also one of the early favourites to win the Europa League, so they will be hoping to bounce back against Sporting Lisbon, which isn’t the easiest fixture.
So, two out of the three favourites fail to win as PSG look to power through the competition, but the Europa League has thrown up upsets in previous years. People only need to look at Fulham two years ago and both Milan clubs being knocked out in the semi-finals a few years previous to that so, who’s to know where this will end come the end of the season?