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The Europa League group stage has begun and all three Belgian clubs impressed the critics on opening night, recording important points in their first of six continental outings and ensuring all Belgian teams are unbeaten after 90 minutes of their respective European campaigns.
Anderlecht received rave reviews for their dazzling display as they saw off Greek side AEK Athens, recording a convincing 4-1 win at the Constant Vanden Stock. Matías Suárez was the star performer for Les Mauves, grabbing his first hat-trick for the club, having joined in 2008. The two teams were no strangers to each other as they met in last year’s group-stage, although both teams have lost key players in the 12 months that have passed.
The home side were slow to start though, with sloppy midfield possession giving AEK early chances. Anderlecht were then given a huge slice of luck for their opener in the 16th minute – Suarez was put through on goal, but took a tumble and somehow managed to tap it past the befuddled goalkeeper Dimitros Konstantopoulous. He seemed to lose confidence after the set-back, gifting possession to Anderlecht repeatedly with his distribution. Les Mauves extended their lead after the impressive youngster Fernando Canesin lofted a beautiful cross into former Liverpool flop Milan Jovanovic to head home. The Serbian is really revelling at his new club, having scored 5 goals already this season.
AEK weren’t down and out though as Leonardo sprinted past several Anderlecht players before cooly curling one past Silvio Proto. An exceptional finish. Suarez wasn’t content with that, providing an equally brilliant goal four minutes later to restore Anderlecht’s two goal advantage. The Argentine was given time to cut inside and then blast one into the far corner. The second half was a little less frantic, even with the dismissal of Kostas Manolas for a second offence, an acting performance many would be proud of. Suarez secured the match ball with another piece of magic as Sacha Kljestan played him through on goal. He cut back across Dellas and exquisitely finished.
Anderlecht were home and dry – an sensational win to put them top of Group L. Suarez deserved the plaudits, although the midfield was also exceptional in providing the front three. He looks a completely different player to last season, playing with more confidence and swagger, likely instilled by his better relationship with Ariel Jacobs and taking the mantle of the departed Romelu Lukaku.
Club Brugge comfortably beat Slovenian champions Maribor 2-0 at the Jan Breydel Stadium. The Blauw-Zwart were quickest out of the blocks and punished Maribor early. Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe continues his excellent form from the league as the enforcer uncharacteristically jinked round defenders in the penalty and shot low past Jasmin Handanovič. Their lead was soon doubled as Nabil Dirar scored, his first shot was blocked but there was no stopping the second effort, rifling it into the net. The crowd wanted more and would have got their wish had it not been for an excellent performance from Handanovič putting in some tremendous saves. Adrie Koster was pleased with the team’s first-half master-class and the second-half was self-preservation. Maribor ended the game a man down as Aleksandr Rajčevič was sent off. An encouraging start to Group H for the Bruges outfit.
After knocking out Sevilla in the playoff round, the pressure was on the Bundesliga team to continue it into the group stage. On evidence of this tie, it could be a short stay for them. They haven’t won a game since that tie and despite dominating proceedings, the goal was never coming. José Riga set Les Rouches out to frustrate Hannover and his plan ultimately worked as the burgeoning midfield partnership Yoni Buyens and William Vainqueur performed excellently – frequently stifling Hannover’s attack and stopping any move from the home team. Standard definitely rode their luck at times but this is a welcome point in a tough trip to the AWD Arena. They host Group B leaders Copenhagen next, hoping for a better performance in front of the Sclessin faithful.
Tagged AEK Athens, Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Europa League, Group B, Group H, Group L, Hannover, Hannover 96, Jose Riga, Leonardo, Maribor, Matias Suarez, Milan Jovanovic, Nabil Dirar, Standard Liège, Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, William Vainqueur