Football

Sevilla sparkle as Europa League returns with goal glut

Sevilla’s love affair with the Europa League was immediately rekindled as last season’s champions and three-times winners began this year’s group stage with a 2-0 home victory over Feyenoord on Thursday.

On-loan midfielder Gerard Deulofeu’s set-pieces proved too hot to handle for Feyenoord as two of his first-half free kicks were turned home by Grzegorz Krychowiak and Stephane Mbia as a new-look Sevilla side comfortably cruised home.

Europe’s second-tier competition, so often derided for lacking the sparkle of its Champions League cousin, was ushered back into action with some stand-out individual displays and a glut of goals across its opening 24 group games.

There were hat-tricks from Dinamo Zagreb’s El Arbi Hilal Soudani, PAOK Salonika captain Stefanos Athanasiadis and Steaua Bucharest’s Claudiu Keseru, whose teams all enjoyed emphatic home wins.

Ex-European champions Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven also got off to winning starts, while Napoli, whose manager Rafa Benitez was heavily criticised after his side failed to make it through a Champions League playoff, came back from a goal down to beat Sparta Prague 3-1 at the San Paolo.

Premier League Everton enjoyed a victorious return to the European stage after a five-year absence with a 4-1 home victory over VfL Wolfsburg, but Tottenham Hotspur were held to a drab 0-0 stalemate at Partizan Belgrade.

Numerous changes

There have been numerous changes at Sevilla since they beat Benfica on penalties in Turin to lift the trophy in May, with some of last season’s heroes departing for new challenges at more glamorous clubs.

Yet even without the likes of midfield playmaker Ivan Rakitic, who left for Barcelona, and left back Alberto Moreno, who joined Liverpool, Sevilla looked sharp and purposeful and well worth their Group G win.

They opened the scoring after eight minutes as a devilish, inswinging free kick from Deulofeu found Krychowiak at the far post and he turned the ball into the net.

It was a case of deja vu on 31 minutes when they doubled the lead as the playmaker on loan from Barcelona curled in another precise set-piece that Mbia rose to head powerfully into the net.

Feyenoord offered little threat and their performance is unlikely to relieve the pressure on coach Fred Rutten, who replaced Ronald Koeman in the close season, but has won only one of his opening five Dutch league matches.

Steaua Bucharest made the most eye-catching start

Among the five former European champions in this season’s Europa League group stage, Steaua Bucharest made the most eye-catching start, thrashing AaB Aalborg 6-0 in Group J with Keseru ​(below, left) scoring three goals in 12 second-half minutes.

Photo: AFP

The two other three-goal hauls both arrived in the first half.

Dinamo Zagreb’s Soudani (below) scored with two headers and a calmly-taken effort from close range in a 5-1 win over Romanians Astra to cap a superb week for Algeria forwards following Yacine Brahimi’s hat-trick for Porto in the Champions League.

Picture: Reuters​

PAOK’s Stefanos​ Athanasiadis had wrapped up his hat-trick in 28 minutes as the Greek side beat Dinamo Minsk 6-1 in Group K.

Paok's Stefanos Athanasiadis (L) and his teammate Razvan Rat (R) celebrate. Photo: AFP

Serie A’s Inter had to be patient in Ukraine against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in Group F before Danilo D’Ambrosio grabbed the only goal after 71 minutes, while PSV’s Luuk de Jong scored a first-half penalty in a 1-0 home win over Estoril in Group E.

Napoli beat Sparta Prague in Group I thanks to a penalty from Gonzalo Higuain and two second-half goals from Belgium’s Dries Mertens after Josef Husbauer had given the visitors an early lead.

Celtic almost pulled off a surprise victory at Austrian champions Salzburg in Group D after Scott Brown put them 2-1 ahead in the second half but Jonatan Soriano netted with a superb free kick to snatch a draw for the hosts. - Reuters

Full results:

Borussia Moenchengladbach 1-1 Villarreal 
Apollon Limassol                  3-2  FC Zürich 
Club Brugge                         0-0 Torino
FC Copenhagen                    2-0 HJK Helsinki 
Partizan Belgrade                 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Besiktas                              1-1 Asteras Tripolis 
Salzburg                              2-2 Celtic  
Dinamo Zagreb                     5-1 FC Astra 
PSV Eindhoven                    1-0 Estoril 
Panathinaikos                      1-2 Dinamo Moscow 
Qarabag                              0-0 Saint-Etienne 
Dnipropetrovsk                     0-1 Inter Milan 
Belgium  Standard Liege      2-0 Rijeka 
Sevilla                                2-0 Feyenoord
Lille                                   1-1 FC Krasnodar
Everton                              4-1 VfL Wolfsburg 
Young Boys                       5-0 Slovan Bratislava
Napoli                               3-1 Sparta Prague
Steaua Bucharest              6-0​ Aalborg 
Rio Ave                             0-3 Dynamo Kiev 
PAOK                               6-1 Dinamo Minsk
Fiorentina                          3-0 Guingamp 
Metalist Kharkiv                 1-2 Trabzonspor
Legia Warsaw                   1-0 Lokeren