Berlin, 23 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – A coronavirus-weakened Alkmaar defeated the odds to beat Napoli 1-0 whilst Bayer Leverkusen were in irresistible form as they thrashed Nice 6-2 in the opening matchday of the Europa League Group stage on Thursday.
Alkmaar were without 13 first-team squad players after a coranavirus outbreak but Dani de Wit’s strike 12 minutes into the second half earned his side the win against the run of play at the Stadio San Paolo.
Leverkusen put Nice to the sword with goals from Nadiem Amiri, Lucas Alario, Moussa Diaby, Florian Wirtz and two from Karim Bellarabi contributing to a convincing win. Amine Gouiri and Alexis Claude-Maurice managed the only responses from the Ligue 1 outfit.
Tottenham Hotspur strolled to a 3-0 win over LASK, as did Leicester v Zorya Luhansk. Darwin Nunez’s hat-trick helped Benfica to a 4-2 victory against Lech Poznan, and Arsenal won 2-1 away at Rapid Vienna.
AC Milan had enough to beat Celtic 3-1 in Glasgow.
It was a mixed evening for German World Cup winner Mario Goetze, who scored before coming off with a muscle injury during PSV Eindhoven’s 2-1 loss against Granada. Lille won 4-1 at Sparta Prague, and Villareal picked up a thrilling 5-3 victory against Sivasspor.
Alkmaar’s preparations had been rocked by the coronavirus tests but they showed grit and determination to get the job done in Italy.
Although Victor Osimhen put the ball in the back of their net in the first 15 minutes, he did so from an offside position. Gennaro Gattuso’s men were unable to break the deadlock before the break.
They continued to apply pressure after the interval, but de Wit struck just before the hour mark and Alkmaar managed to hold on for an unlikely victory.
Speaking to Sky Italia at full-time, Gattuso was not happy with his side’s display. “We should not have lost a game like this,” he said.
“Possession is fine, but not when it’s sterile, as we tickled the opposition rather than hurt them.
“We need more vehemence and hunger, as today we didn’t do enough off the ball.”
Leverkusen displayed plenty of confidence against their French opponents. Early strikes from Amiri and Alario put the Bundesliga side two up within 16 minutes before Gouiri’s well-struck effort past Lukas Hradecky halved the deficit.
After the interval, it was mostly one-way traffic. Diaby fired beyond Walter Benitez, before Bellarabi’s two strikes in four minutes from the bench made it 5-1. The 17-year-old Wirtz made it six soon after before Claude-Maurice’s consolation.
Leverkusen captain Lars Bender was cautious in appraising the performance. “It wasn’t as easy as the scoreline suggests.” he said.
“We lost grip on the game in the first half and changed things to seize the initiative in the second which worked out well. The scoreline may be a little high, but we’re pleased to be scoring goals again.”
Jose Mourinho named Gareth Bale in his Spurs starting eleven for the first time following his loan return from Real Madrid.
However, it was the Premier League side’s other attacking options that found the net – Lucas Moura and Son Heung Min struck either side of an Andres Andrade own-goal to give their team all three points.
Roma prevailed 2-1 against Young Boys away from home, Braga eased past AEK Athens 3-0, and Hapoel Beer-Sheva did so 3-1 against Slavia Prague.
There were 2-0 wins for Hoffenheim, Rangers and Cluj versus Red Star Belgrade, Standard Liege and CSKA Sofia respectively, whilst Liberec v Gent and Maccabi Tel Aviv v Qarabag both ended 1-0 to the home side.
Real Socieded won 1-0 away from home against Rijeka and there were 2-1 away wins for Antwerp at Ludogorets and Molde at Dundalk.
Wolfsberg v CSKA Moscow and PAOK v Omonia ended 1-1, and Dinamo Zagreb and Feyenoord played out the only goalless draw of the round.