Some of the most resonant names in European football were in action on Thursday as they set out to vault the final hurdle before the UEFA Europa League group stage. While there were comfortable wins for the likes of AFC Ajax, Hamburger SV and last season's UEFA Cup winners FC Shakhtar Donetsk, AEK Athens FC, Aston Villa FC, FK Crvena Zvezda and AS Roma all experienced difficult evenings.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the night came in Romania, where SC Vaslui overcame AEK 2-1 thanks to a goal in either half from Brazilian midfielder Wesley, his second a penalty with seven minutes remaining. Founded in 2002, Vaslui only got their first taste of European football last season when they were defeated in the UEFA Cup first round, but they will now be looking to complete a famous victory in the Greek capital next Thursday.
As former European champions, Villa and Crvena Zvezda must count as even more prestigious scalps, and while the English side succumbed 1-0 at SK Rapid Wien, the latter were 3-0 losers away against SK Slavia Praha. Villa were undone by a Nikica Jelavić header after just 16 seconds, whereas 1990/91 European Champions Clubs' Cup winners Crvena Zvezda conceded two Zdeněk Šenkerik efforts before substitute Stanislav Vlček's late strike. For their part, Roma let a two-goal lead slip in Solvakia as Ján Novák earned MFK Košice a 3-3 draw and revived their hopes of progress with a second-half double.
The Giallorossi's city neighbours S.S. Lazio enjoyed a much more straightforward 90 minutes, seeing off Swedish opponents IF Elfsborg 3-0. Compatriots Genoa CFC also prevailed, 3-1 at home against Odense BK, but the Italian duo's success in front of goal paled in comparison with German outfits Hamburger SV and Werder Bremen, Mladen Petrić hitting a hat-trick as Hamburg won 5-1 at EA Guingamp and Bremen downing FK Aktobe 6-3. Hertha BSC Berlin lost 2-1 at Brøndby IF, meanwhile.
With Guingamp suffering a heavy setback, it was left to Toulouse FC and LOSC Lille Métropole to salvage French pride, André-Pierre Gignac registering twice for Toulouse in a worthy 3-1 victory at Trabzonspor and Lille winning 2-1 at Belgian neighbours KRC Genk. Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven and Ajax also performed well, PSV emerging 1-0 winners at Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC and Luis Suárez helping himself to four goals in Ajax's 5-0 home triumph over ŠK Slovan Bratislava. Also in the Netherlands, FC Twente beat surprise package FK Qarabağ 3-1.
Like Ajax, Galatasaray SK posted five unanswered goals to see off visitors FC Levadia Tallinn while Everton FC, SL Benfica and NK Dinamo Zagreb all eased to 4-0 home wins. Eliminated from UEFA Champions League reckoning in the third qualifying round, Shakhtar bounced back with a 3-0 victory at Sivasspor, which was also Valencia CF's margin of victory at Stabæk IF, while fellow Spanish hopefuls Athletic Club Bilbao clinched a narrow 3-2 home win over Tromsø IL and Villarreal CF beat hosts NAC Breda 3-1. For all of tonight's results, click here.
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