DAVID SMITH - Thursday, September 15, 2011
Jozy Altidore's wonder-goal helped AZ Alkmaar power to a win over Malmö FF while Steve Cherundolo and Hannover were held to a scoreless deadlock by Standard Liege as Europa League group play kicked off.

Hannover 96 0 - 0 Standard Liege

Steve Cherundolo and Hannover were unable to break down the defensive brick wall set up by their Belgian guests Standard Liege, and were forced to settle for a scoreless draw in their Group B opening match on Thursday.

Liege largely sat back and allowed Hannover to control the flow of the game, putting their focus on defending their own goal and successfully limiting their hosts to the occasional shot from distance.

Hannover's best chance came from the foot of Jan Schlaudraff in the 41st minute, as he skilfully created space for himself on the edge of the penalty area, only to frustratingly lob a shot off of the crossbar.

As the second half wore on, the hosts pushed forward in search of the opening score, and were again inches away with seven minutes left on the clock when late substitute Moritz Stoppelkamp curled a shot which sailed just inches wide of the left upright.

The referee's whistle finally put an end to the largely dull contest, awarding each team one point on the night.

The result leaves both Hannover and Liege tied in second place in the group behind leaders Copenhagen. Hannover will visit Vorskla Poltava in two weeks time for their second group game, but will first host reigning German champions Borussia Dortmund in Bundesliga action on Sunday.

FC Zürich 0 - 2 Sporting Lisbon

Oguchi Onyewu made a successful return to European competition, playing the full 90 minutes in Sporting's backfield on Thursday as they took control of Group D wit a convincing win at FC Zürich.

After making his first appearance for the Portuguese team in league play last weekend the hulking American was again given the start in Sporting's central defense on their trip to Switzerland.

They wasted no time in leaving their mark on the game, jumping to the lead after just four minutes of play as Emiliano Insúa headed in a free kick from Stijn Schaars for the 1-0 advantage.

Zürich nearly equalized in the 16th minute on an indirect free kick, as Oliver Buff tapped the ball to Ricardo Rodriguez for a blast which bounced off the upright.

The Swiss team was made to rue their missed chance minutes later, as Sporting doubled the lead in the 21st minute when Insúa fired a cross in from the left side which young Dutch international Ricky van Wolfswinkel put away past Zürich keeper Johnny Leoni.

Zürich fought desperately to pull themselves back into the game, with Admir Mehmedi hitting the upright in the 58th minute, then Rodriguez striking the woodwork on a free kick in the 76th minute, however the Portuguese successfully held their lead until the final whistle.

Sporting stand alone atop Group D with three points, and return home to host Italians Lazio in two weeks. First, they will visit Rio Ave FC in league play on Monday.

AZ Alkmaar - Malmö FF

Jozy Altidore added yet another goal to his season's tally, netting the first of four Alkmaar goals on Thursday as they cruised to an easy home win over outmatched Swedish team Malmö FF.

The game was a fairly even contest for the first 20 minutes until Altidore put AZ ahead in the 21st minute seemingly out of nowhere with a tremendous 30-yard strike that rocketed inside the upper right corner.

The goal turned the tide of the game, and the Dutch team was up by two goals in the 34th minute after Roy Beerens was toppled in the area by Ricardinho, allowing Rasmus Elm to side-foot his spot kick to the right of Malmö keeper Johan Dahlin.

They added a third score just four minutes later, this time with Adam Maher chesting down a poor clearance before volleying the ball into the bottom side of the top netting from the center of the penalty area.

Alkmaar's dominance continued after the halftime break, and Brett Holman made it 4-0 in the 49th minute when he finished off a fantastic run up the left with a low shot just inside the far corner.

The Swedes did grab a consolation goal with 19 minutes left in the game after Etienne Reijnen fouled Daniel Larsson in the area, with the Swedish international doing the honors on the resulting penalty, however it did little to change the contrasting moods of either team as the final whistle confirmed the Alkmaar win.

AZ are tied with Ukrainian team Metalist Kharkiv on points atop Group G, however hold the edge on goal differential. The two teams will duke it out in Ukraine in two weeks for the group lead. Alkmaar next take the field on Sunday when they visit RKC Waalwijk in Eredivisie play.

Birmingham City 1 - 3 Sporting Braga

Jonathan Spector played the full 90 minutes in defensive midfield for Birmingham on Thursday, as they opened group stage play with a crushing loss at home to Portuguese team Sporting Braga.

Birmingham had flown into the group stage by besting Portuguese team CD Nacional in the play-off round, however had a considerably tougher time against one of the better teams from the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula.

Last season's losing finalists Sporting wasted no time in getting their European campaign off to a flying start, as Helder Barbosa was the beneficiary of a short cross from Uwa Elderson, which he spectacularly volleyed into goal from 20 yards out for the seventh-minute lead.

The game quickly slowed down in pace and chances were scant through the break and for the first 15 minutes of the second half, until Braga doubled their lead moments before the hour mark.

Elderson whipped in a cross from the left side for Nuno Gomes with strike partner Lima clearly standing in an offside position, although not interfering with play. The ball took a bounce off of Gomes and landed at the foot of Lima, who coolly smashed it in from five yards out for 2-0.

The hosts were given some hope in the 71st minute when substitute Chris Burke made a darting run into the right side of the area, and occupying the attention of both the defense and keeper, he crossed the ball towards the far post where Marlon King tapped in from close range.

That was the final bright spot for Birmingham, with Braga adding a third goal two minutes from full time as their hosts poured everything forward, with Carlão hitting Barbosa from the right side on a counter-attack for an unreachable blast at the far post.

Birmingham sit third place in Group H, ahead of Maribor only by way of total goals scored. They visit the Slovenian team in two weeks, but currently turn their focus back to play in the English second tier, where they visit FC Southampton on Sunday.

Fulham 1 - 1 FC Twente

Clint Dempsey played the full 90 minutes for Fulham on Thursday night, as both the Cottagers and their guests FC Twente benefited from flukey goals in an entertaining draw to open Group K play.

2010 Europa League finalists Fulham came into the game holding a 20-game home unbeaten streak in European competition, and successfully protected their record despite their more recent troubles in Premier League play.

They were practically gifted the opening goal when Twente defender Dwight Tiendalli made an ill-advised pass across his own penalty area, which Andrew Johnson rushed onto and put away from a tight angle at the left edge of the six-yard box.

The Cottagers continued to threaten in the following minutes, but were victimized on an unlucky bounce five minutes before the break for the equalizer.

Roberto Rosales hit a cross from the right flank which Luuk de Jong headed to the near post. The ball bounced off the crossbar before awkwardly hitting Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer and bouncing over the line for 1-1.

Fulham looked the better team and continued to threaten after the break. Dempsey missed barely wide left with a header in the 53rd minute, four minutes before Johnson was denied a second goal thanks to a fantastic save by Twente keeper Nikolay Mihailov.

The hosts continued to press, with Dempsey again coming close only to see his shot saved by Mihailov three minutes past the hour, and Steve Sidwell heading just over the crossbar with 20 minutes left.

Strong defending the the Dutch team ultimately kept Fulham from capitalizing on their show of force, with each team taking home one point at the final whistle.

Fulham are tied for second in the group with Twente, with both teams trailing Danish team Odense. Dempsey and his teammates can look forward to a visit to Denmark in two weeks, however must first attempt to rescue their failing league campaign, beginning with a daunting visit from Manchester City on Sunday.

Anderlecht 4 - 1 AEK Athens Michael Adubato's press box report[endlink].


Brad Friedel was given a rest by Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp and was left out of the squad that battled to a 0-0 draw in Greece on Thursday against PAOK Thessaloniki.

Dominic Cervi was not in the Celtic squad that traveled to Spain and made a mess of their opening game in Group I, losing 2-0 to Atletico Madrid.

Jermaine Jones was left in Germany and did not take part in Schalke's scoreless draw in Romania against Steaua Bucharest to open Group J play.

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