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September 19, 2009

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Shakhtar off to a flier, Roma shocked

SHAKHTAR Donetsk began its defense of European football's second tier cup competition with a 4-1 victory at FC Brugge on Thursday on the day the competition itself made history.

Formerly the UEFA Cup, the Europa League became the first European competition to use five match officials with two extra helping the referee on an experimental basis by watching out for incidents from behind the goals in the first round of group games.

Goals by Oleksiy Gai, Willian da Silva and Dario Srna in the first 35 minutes put Shakhtar in control in Brugge, and the Ukraine team topped Group J despite Toulouse winning 3-2 at Partizan Belgrade.

Last season's runner-up Werder Bremen won 3-2 at Portugal's Nacional with Claudio Pizarro scoring twice, including an 84th-minute winner.

Elsewhere, there were some surprises.

Four-time European champion Ajax Amsterdam was held to 0-0 at home by Romania's Timisoara, Hamburg tumbled 0-3 at Rapid Vienna, and Celtic conceded two late goals to go down 1-2 at Hapoel Tel Aviv in the same Group C.

"We are disappointed. Hapoel played well and ultimately on the night they deserved the victory," said Celtic manager Tony Mowbray. "We were pretty comfortable after we took the lead, but we can have no excuses. We can't take anything away from Hapoel's performance."

Struggling in the Bundesliga with four straight losses, Hertha Berlin was held to 1-1 at home by Latvia's Ventspils in Group D where Sporting Lisbon began with a 3-2 victory at Dutch club Heerenveen.

AS Roma went down 0-2 at Basel in Group E and Lazio conceded two late goals to lose 1-2 at home to Red Bull Salzburg in Group G. Although Pasquale Foggia gave the Italian side a 59th-minute lead, Franz Schiemer equalized in the 82nd and Marc Janko punished a weak header by Lazio defender Sanchez Cribari to score a last-minute winner.

Galatasaray had an impressive 3-1 victory at Panathinaikos in Group F with Brazilian forward Elano scoring twice and setting up the other for Milan Baros.

Genoa tops Group B after a 2-0 victory over Slavia Prague and, in the same group, Valencia was held to 1-1 at Lille.

Benfica began with a 2-0 victory over BATE Borisov of Belarus but is behind Everton in the Group I standings, as the struggling English Premier League team, which signed Australian defender Lucas Neill hours earlier, beat AEK Athens 4-0 despite a late red card for Louis Saha.


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