Written By: Abidoye Babatunde
There were goals, upsets and plenty of talking points all around the continent as the 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League group stage got under way in dramatic fashion.
Legia Warszawa 3-2 Aston Villa
Ernest Muçi’s low finish early in the second half earned Legia a deserved victory as former European Cup winners Aston Villa’s long-awaited return to group stage football ended in disappointment.
JhonDurán headed the visitors level after Pawel Wszolek’s third-minute opener, and Villa went into the break at 2-2, Lucas Digne’s deflected strike cancelling out Muçi’s first of the night before the Albanian forward struck again.
Key stat: This was Villa’s first group stage game since the 2008/09 UEFA Cup; they had not conceded in their two previous European matches this season.
Genk 2-2 Fiorentina
Mark McKenzie’s goal five minutes from time ensured that home team Genk did not finish empty-handed after last season’s runners-up Fiorentina seemed set to open with a win.
Two Luca Ranieri headers either side of a close-range Andi Zeqiri equaliser gave the visitors the lead at half-time. Vincenzo Italiano’s men were unable to build on that advantage after the break, and McKenzie found space in the area to nod in the fourth goal of the evening from a corner. Toluwalase Arokodare nearly gave Genk the victory but hit the post late on.
Key stat: Ranieri became the first Italian defender to score twice in a European game since Giorgio Chiellini for Juventus against Lech Poznań in the 2010/11 Europa League.
Frankfurt 2-1 Aberdeen
Frankfurt claimed a hard-fought victory at home to Aberdeen courtesy of goals by Omar Marmoush and Robin Koch.
The German side, Europa League finalists two seasons ago, took an early lead when Marmoush converted from the penalty spot only for Dante Polvara to level the contest with his first goal for Aberdeen. But Koch headed in a 61st-minute winner to see off the determined Scottish visitors.
Key stat: Frankfurt are unbeaten in 11 home matches in all competitions, since a 2-0 loss to Napoli in last season’s Champions League round of 16 first leg.
• Group stage debutants Zrinjski came from 3-0 down at half-time to beat last season’s semi-finalists AZ Alkmaar in a thriller. Substitute Zvonimir Kožulj scored the winner in the 81st minute, his second of the game, to complete the turnaround.
• Fenerbahçe eased to victory over Danish outfit Nordsjælland in Group H. Miguel Crespo, Michy Batshuayi and Serdar Aziz put the home team in control before Oliver Villadsen’s consolation for the visitors.
• KÍ Klaksvík of the Faroe Islands started their first ever group stage campaign with defeat in Slovakia. Deni Pavlović provided a moment to remember by giving them the lead just after half-time, but Vladimír Weiss and Aleksandar Čavrić replied for Slovan Bratislava.
All the Matchday 1 results
Group A: LOSC Lille 2-0 Olimpija Ljubljana, Slovan Bratislava 2-1 KÍ Klaksvík
Group B: Maccabi Tel Aviv 3-2 Breidablik, Zorya Luhansk 1-1 Gent
Group C: Viktoria Plzeň 1-0 Ballkani, Dinamo Zagreb 5-1 Astana
Group D: Club Brugge 1-1 Beşiktaş, Lugano 0-0 Bodø/Glimt
Group E: Legia 3-2 Aston Villa, Zrinjski 4-3 AZ Alkmaar
Group F: Genk 2-2 Fiorentina, Ferencváros 3-1 Čukarički
Group G: Frankfurt 2-1 Aberdeen, HJK 2-3 PAOK
Group H: Ludogorets 4-0 Spartak Trnava, Fenerbahçe 3-1 Nordsjælland