Goals aplenty, travel, excitement and, tellingly, no 0-0 draws: matchday two represented the UEFA Europa League at its best, justifying the 2012/13 competition's keynote slogan: Discover the Drama.
The UEFA Champions League brings together the best teams in Europe, but in terms of thrills, the UEFA Europa League runs its sibling close. None of Thursday's 24 fixtures ended goalless, and only three of them were decided by a solitary strike, with Fenerbahçe SK's 4-2 win at VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, Udinese Calcio's 3-2 victory at Liverpool FC and Olympique Lyonnais' nail-biting 4-3 success at Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC exemplifying another scintillating evening of action.
The UEFA Europa League is a melting pot of great teams and great players, bringing together champions of smaller nations, established sides taking a break from the UEFA Champions League, and clubs making their first steps in UEFA competitions. That exciting clash of footballing cultures was seen in Baku, where Azerbaijani champions welcomed FC Internazionale Milano after a 3,300km trip east – the visitors notched up a 3-1 win, with their second goal their 500th in UEFA competition.
However, this is a tournament which does not respect reputations. The most famous names can expect a hard ride from the lesser sung outfits, desperate to prove their worth. Last night, Videoton FC beat Sporting Clube de Portugal 3-0 in Hungary, while on matchday one Slovenia's NK Maribor put three without reply past UEFA Champions League regulars Panathinaikos FC.
Matchday two also saw seasoned campaigners VfB Stuttgart felled 2-0 at Molde FK, the Norwegian team led by former Manchester United FC forward Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who is tipped for great things as a coach. In that respect, he is in the right place – the UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League have traditionally given young coaches a chance to show their class.
José Mourinho, a UEFA Cup champion with FC Porto in 2002/03, was one of a number of great tacticians who have announced their genius in Europe's second competition. After winning last season's event, Club Atlético de Madrid – under Diego Simeone – hope to follow a similar stellar path, with Tottenham Hotspur FC's André Villas-Boas also looking to sparkle again in the tournament he won with Porto in 2010/11.
Gripping games, intriguing journeys, terrific coaches and, of course, great players. There is no shortage of goalscoring talent either – nor of tremendous goals. Two from Thursday stand as testament to that: Cristian Rodríguez's added-time winner for Atlético against FC Viktoria Plzeň and a piece of acrobatic brilliance from A. Académica de Coimbra's Salim Cissé in a 1-1 draw with Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC.
Whichever way you look at it, the UEFA Europa League is compelling football fans to keep their Thursday nights clear. Stay tuned for the next episode on 25 October.
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