There was a winning start from 2010 runners-up Fulham FC as the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League got under way on Thursday with the opening leg of the 25 first qualifying round ties.
Precisely 305 days before the final in Bucharest on 9 May next year, Fulham ran out 3-0 home winners over Faroese visitors NSÍ Runavík in what was new coach Martin Jol's first game in charge of the Premier League club. The Londoners' lineup featured eight of the starting XI from their final defeat by Club Atlético de Madrid 13 months ago and one of that number, midfielder Damien Duff, struck the opening goal after 33 minutes. Danny Murphy (penalty) and Andrew Johnson extended their advantage in the second half.
Fulham's two fellow Respect Fair Play entrants had mixed fortunes. Sweden's BK Häcken needed a 93rd-minute Mattias Östberg equaliser to avoid defeat against UN Käerjéng 97 in Luxembourg, while Aalesunds FK of Norway conceded an early goal at home to tournament newcomers Neath FC but recovered to win 4-1. Neath were one of five new names in the competition and only one, Paksi SE of Hungary, tasted victory, prevailing 1-0 at UE Santa Coloma through Gábor Vayer's 15th-minute goal.
Another of the newcomers, FC Milsami Orhei from Moldova, succumbed 2-0 at FC Dinamo Tbilisi. Georgian side Dinamo were the only team in action with a European trophy – having lifted the 1981 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup – and they triumphed through goals from Nika Kvekveskiri and Irakli Lekvtadze. Ferencvárosi TC, meanwhile, the 1975 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup runners-up and UEFA Champions League group stage participants in 1995/96, enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 success against Ulisses FC in Budapest. György Jozsi, Mark Otten and substitute Felipe were the scorers.
The night's biggest victory came in Belgrade where FK Rad put six unanswered goals past SP Tre Penne of San Marino, who lost their captain Manuel Francesconi to a red card shortly after the restart. The Norwegians of Tromso IL recorded the most impressive away result, meanwhile, 5-0 at FC Daugava Daugavpils.
Finally, the honour of scoring the first goal of the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League fell to Igor Voronkov, whose 11th-minute strike earned Belarus's FC Minsk a 1-1 draw at Olimpik-Şüvälan PFK. The second-leg matches will take place on 7 July.
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