CORDOBA, Argentina (AP) – A 'Parc' picnic: PSG cruised by Red Bull Salzburg to earn three important points in Group F. (Photo by Bertrand Guay/Getty Images)
Paris Saint-Germain, Udinese and Atletico Madrid were the big winners as the Europa League group stages kicked off Thursday night. Twenty-four games were played across the continent in Europe's second-tier cup competition with PSV Eindhoven, Anderlecht and AZ Alkmaar also getting their campaigns off to solid starts.
PSG impressed with a solid 3-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg at Parc des Princes that showcases the grand ambition from the heavily invested French club. Coming from a Mevlut Erdinc's cross, Mathieu Bodmer scored one of the goals of the day at full stride to fire home a full volley to the top corner past Eddie Gustafsson. Jeremy Menez, Nene and Javier Pastore all looked great against, what admittedly is not top-flight opposition.
Udinese also got a much-needed win, recovering from an early deficit against Rennes to triumph 2-1, behind goals from Antonio Di Natale and a late winner from Pablo Armero. The result was a bit harsh on Rennes, in what was a tight match from the whistle. Armero's winner, a bank shot off the post from Kwadwo Asamoah's flick on, was a true beauty.
Several Americans made their mark Thursday night, with Jozy Altidore opening the scoring for AZ Alkmaar, as they hammered Malmo 4-1. Altidore's strike was one of the best of the day, a 25-yard ripper to the top right corner that gave keeper Esteban Alvarado no chance. Sasha Kljestan also had an assist on Anderlecht's final goal in a 4-1 rout of AEK Athens, after seizing a loose ball and setting up Matias Suarez' third goal of the night. Oguchi Onyewu's Sporting Lisbon side got a 2-0 win over Zurich, and Fulham's Clint Dempsey was a force to be reckoned against FC Twente. Dempsey clearly harassed Twente's goalkeeper, Nikolay Mihaylov, all night long and missed wide on an opportunity that would have been the game-winning header as the Cottagers drew 1-1 against the Dutch.
Fulham's result was not uncommon on a week that saw only one British team win in Europe; as Chelsea earned a solid 2-0 win over Leverkusen Tuesday in the Champions League. Tottenham and Stoke merited solid away draws as they began European play, with Spurs fending off a tough Greek PAOK Salonika side to get a scoreless tie and Stoke getting a decent 1-1 road draw in the Ukraine against Dynamo. Cameron Jerome opened the scoring for the Potters, but their resolute defense finally cracked in stoppage time when Ongen Vukojevic was left unmarked at the back post to tuck home a cross from Andriy Yarmolenko.
Other British sides would have gladly taken a point. Celtic were hammered in Madrid by Atletico, a 2-0 defeat that doesn't accurately reflect the Spaniards' dominance. Radamel Falcao, last year's Europa League star with FC Porto, and the Brazilian midfielder Diego, led the charge past a Glaswegian side that is only here because Swiss team Sion were ejected by UEFA for using ineligible players. Evidently, it's hard to argue that the once great Scottish side belongs in this competition.
Birmingham City, who are just happy to be here after being relegated, played better than their 3-1 loss to Braga might indicate and got a fine showing from young Nathan Redmond. Nonetheless, they were not in the same class as the Portuguese and cannot complain. Ireland's Shamrock Rovers were also blown out 3-0 by Russians Rubin Kazan in a rout that could have been much worse had the Russians not taken their feet off the pedal after the hour mark.
Eastern European sides performed well overall, with Metalist Kharkiv pipping Austria Vienna 2-1 and Lokomotiv Moscow recovering against Austria's SK Sturm Graz, scoring two goals in a minute, to win out 2-1 in the late game Thursday night.
Rapid Bucuresti downed Hapoel Tel Aviv 1-0 on what was a miserable night for Israeli sides: Turkey's Besiktas hammered Maccabi Tel Aviv5-1, while Maccabi Haifa could only muster a 1-0 home win over Cypriot minnows AEK Larnaka.
In other notable results, Hannover were held scoreless at home by Standard Liege in a colorless slog; as were Bundesliga rivals Schalke away at Steaua Bucharest. Lazio recovered for a 2-2 draw against Romanians Vaslui after having Luciano Zauri shown a straight red. Zauri floored Wesley da Silva in the box and allowed the Brazilian to get the go-ahead goal. Thankfully for Lazio, Giuseppi Sculli rescued the Italians eight minutes later and grimly hung on in what was a sloppy, foul-ridden affair.
PSV Eindhoven got a 1-0 win over Legia Warsaw, thanks to Dries Merten's superb take from the top of the box to beat a panicked Dusan Kuciak in the nets. Club Brugge opened with a 2-0 win over minnows NK Maribor.
And finally, Odense knocked of Wisla Krakow 3-1, while Athletic Bilbao held on for a 2-1 win over Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia, thanks to Iker Muniain's 40th minute winner.