LONDON (Reuters) – Russian clubs ruled the Europa League roost on Thursday as Rubin Kazan upset holders Atletico Madrid while Anzhi Makhachkala and Zenit St Petersburg opened up commanding first-leg advantages in their last 32 ties.
Rubin’s Gokdeniz Karadeniz scored after six minutes and Pablo Orbaiz struck deep into added time to give the Russians, who played the entire second half with 10 men after Roman Sharonov was sent off, a shock 2-0 win at Atletico.
Anzhi beat Hanover 3-1 and Zenit won 2-0 at home against five-times European Cup winners Liverpool while goals from Vladimir Darida, Frantisek Rajtoral and Stanislav Tecl helped unfancied Czechs Viktoria Plzen upset Napoli 3-0 away.
Brazilian Oscar spared European champions Chelsea’s blushes late on at Sparta Prague in a 1-0 victory and Gareth Bale continued his remarkable scoring form with two superb free kicks in Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 home win over Olympique Lyon.
Hosts Inter Milan, three times European champions, beat Champions League dropouts CFR Cluj 2-0 with two goals from substitute Rodrigo Palacio.
The win was soured by injury-prone forward Diego Milito lasting six minutes and crying as he left the pitch with a knee problem but fellow Argentine Palacio took his place with aplomb.
Atletico grew increasingly frustrated in the second half against Kazan and leading scorer Radamel Falcao hit the woodwork as the clock ticked on.
Allowing goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo forward for a last-minute corner could prove fatal for next Thursday’s second leg as Spaniard Orbaiz gleefully slotted into the unguarded net with the home side’s shotstopper at the wrong end of the pitch.
“Those who don’t take risks rarely win,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said on www.uefa.com after Rubin handed the Spaniards, second in La Liga, a first home defeat of the season while also ending their 12-match home winning streak in Europe.
“In the last play of the match, when we were looking for the draw, we took a risk and it didn’t work out this time.”
Samuel Eto’o, four-times African player of the year who has won the Champions League three times with Barcelona and Inter, was on target and missed a penalty in big-spending Anzhi’s win at home to Hanover, a result which impressed coach Guus Hiddink.
“We played a good match considering we’re only in the third week of preparation (for the re-start of the Russian league season) while our opponents have their season in full swing,” Hiddink told Russian television NTV Plus.
Hulk’s unstoppable swerving effort from 30 metres broke the deadlock for Zenit after 69 minutes and Sergei Semak poked home three minutes later to break Liverpool’s resistance after the English club’s striker Luis Suarez had spurned several chances.
“If we can get (the next goal in next week’s home leg), it can create momentum for us. There’s no way the tie is over,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told the club’s website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
Napoli may feel slightly differently after they squandered numerous chances and were hit on the counter attack by their plucky Czech opponents.
Darida was on hand to crash the loose ball into the net after 28 minutes against Napoli, who conceded two more late on when Rajtoral crept in unnoticed at the far post with 11 minutes remaining while Tecl added a third for the Czech league leaders.
“It is difficult to comment on such a distorted night. However, if you miss six or seven chances in front of the goalkeeper but concede three goals in three counter-attacks it becomes tricky,” Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri told Mediaset TV.
“It’s clear it is now going to be difficult but we will try anyway to turn the tie around and do something extraordinary.”
Chelsea, who dropped into the Europa League after being dumped out of the Champions League as holders in the group stage, flirted with a 0-0 draw until substitute Oscar’s 82-minute winner shortly after coming on.
“Sparta played well which made it good. It was a strange experience and I’m glad we got that one goal at the end,” said Chelsea and Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech, formerly a Sparta player.
Borussia Moenchengladbach and Lazio drew 3-3 in the game of the night, the Germans coming from 2-1 down to lead only for the Italians to level in the dying seconds.
There were impressive wins for Spanish club Levante, who beat runaway Greek league leaders Olympiakos Piraeus 3-0 at home and Ajax Amsterdam, 2-0 victors against former European champions Steaua Bucharest in the Netherlands.
Champions League dropouts Benfica won 1-0 at German club Bayer Leverkusen, Oscar Cardozo on target for the Portuguese just after the hour while Dynamo Kiev and Girondins Bordeaux shared the honours in a 1-1 draw in Ukraine.
Belarussians BATE Borisov drew 0-0 at home with Fenerbahce, who were reduced to 10 men after four minutes when Portuguese midfielder Raul Meireles was sent off.
Meireles had an 11-match ban for spitting at a referee in the Turkish league in December reduced to four games on appeal.
In the later matches there was a 2-0 win for Basel over Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk while VfB Stuttgart and Newcastle United drew against Racing Genk and Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv respectively. (Additional reporting by Iain Rogers in Madrid, Gennady Fyodorov in Moscow and Michael Kahn in Prague, editing by Mark Meadows)