Genk find early groove while Plzeň and Wisła falter

KRC Genk started their Belgian title defence with three points, but it was a different tale for fellow UEFA Champions League qualifying hopefuls FC Viktoria Plzeň and Wisła Kraków.

Genk's Elyaniv Barda celebrates his goal against Beerschot
Genk's Elyaniv Barda celebrates his goal against Beerschot ©AFP

It was another case of new beginnings across Europe this weekend as KRC Genk started their Belgian title defence with victory, unlike Czech counterparts FC Viktoria Plzeň and returning Polish titleholders Wisła Kraków.

Genk suggested they might hit the ground running after they defeated FK Partizan 2-1 in last week's UEFA Champions League third qualifying round opener, and they warmed up for Wednesday's decider by overcoming K. Beerschot AC 3-1. Elyaniv Barda (32) and David Hubert (36) struck for the hosts after a Tomislav Mikulić own goal had given them a 20th-minute lead. As for last season's runners-up R. Standard de Liège − due to face FC Zürich in Europe's premier club competition − they could only draw 1-1 with promoted RAEC Mons.

That was also the scoreline when Wisła visited RTS Widzew Łódź in their first assignment of the 2011/12 Polish First Division season. In fact, the visitors were grateful for David Biton's 93rd-minute leveller to salvage anything at all ahead of their UEFA Champions League qualifying reunion with PFC Litex Lovech, whom they lead 2-1. Czech champions Plzeň had to settle for a 2-2 home stalemate against FC Slovan Liberec, meanwhile.

Alexander Frei struck twice as Switzerland's finest last term, FC Basel 1893, recorded a 2-2 draw of their own at Grasshopper-Club, leaving UEFA Europa League third qualifying round hopefuls FC Thun the early pacesetters. Scottish champions Rangers FC had a first triumph of the season to celebrate, on their other hand, as they geared up for their must-win UEFA Champions League trip to Malmö FF by overcoming Saint Johnstone FC 2-0 – just as Danish giants FC København made it two league victories from three as they accounted for FC Nordsjælland 2-0.

There was also an injection of tension into the Russian title race as leaders PFC CSKA Moskva encountered frustration at FC Kuban Krasnodar, a 1-1 draw allowing closest pursuers FC Zenit St Petersburg to climb within two points by edging PFC Spartak Nalchik 1-0. Over in Ukraine, finally, FC Shakhtar Donetsk's perfect start to the new campaign was ended four games in by substitute Ionuţ Mazilu's last-minute equaliser for hosts FC Arsenal Kyiv in a 1-1 draw. The Pitmen's great rivals FC Dynamo Kyiv had played out a 0-0 stalemate with FC Metalurh Donetsk 24 hours earlier.