Besiktas and Olympiacos won away games to start the round of 32 in soccer’s Europa League.
Tomas Sivok and Simao scored as Besiktas defeated 10-man SC Braga 2-0 on Tuesday night, while David Fuster got the goal and reserve goalkeeper Roy Carroll stopped a penalty-kick with his first touch in Olympiacos’ 1-0 win over Rubin Kazan.
“It was a dream start for me,” former Manchester United goalie Carroll, who joined the Greek champions last month, said on UEFA’s Web site. “I wasn’t expecting to come on and save a penalty, but that’s what I had to do.”
Besiktas and Olympiacos will host the return matches in the two-game series on Thursday next week. The remaining 14 matchups in the round start today, when Porto resume their title defense against English Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Besiktas scored in each half in Portugal to put Braga, last season’s runner-ups, on the brink of elimination from Europe’s second-tier club competition.
Braga’s Helder Barbosa was sent off in the 29th minute for a second yellow card and Sivok put the visiting team ahead eight minutes later by heading in Manuel Fernandes’ corner-kick.
Simao clinched the Turkish club’s victory in the 58th minute when he ran onto a ball from Fernandes and shot past goalkeeper Joaquim Silva.
In Moscow, Olympiacos took the lead in the 71st minute when Fuster scored with a shot that deflected off Bebras Natcho, who was positioned on the goal line.
Olympiacos were reduced to 10 men two minutes later as goalkeeper Balazs Megyeri was red-carded for taking down Gokdeniz Karadeniz in the area. Carroll then came on and dived to save Natcho’s penalty to preserve his team’s one-goal lead ahead of the return game in Greece.
In other news, Manchester United were to play a European match outside the Champions League for the first time since 1995 yesterday when they met Ajax Amsterdam in the Europa League with manager Alex Ferguson convinced they are unlucky not to be challenging for the European Cup as usual.
United, who have reached the Champions League final three times in the past four seasons, failed to advance past the group stage this season after dropping vital points drawing and losing to Basel.
They now face Ajax in a round-of-32 first-leg game — their first at this level of European competition since they played a UEFA Cup tie against Rotor Volgograd of Russia in 1995-1996 when they were beaten on away goals in the first round.
Since then, they have had 16 successive seasons in the Champions League and were European champions in 1999 and 2008 as well as losing finalists in 2009 and last season.
Ferguson, talking ahead of their trip to Amsterdam, told FIFA.com that United’s early exit from the Champions League was a blip and as much down to bad luck as anything else.
“I feel we had the ability to go all the way to the final,” he said. “Luck wasn’t on our side, but I think we’ve got the ambition to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid and I don’t feel we’re that far away from them. I’m sure we’ll show that soon.”
United, as ever, are in contention for the Premier League title again and after their 2-1 win over Liverpool on Saturday, are just two points behind rivals City with 13 matches to play.
“We’ve had our ups and downs and we’ve been unlucky with injuries,” Ferguson added. “We’ve had a lot of them, which you don’t expect, and we’ve got people like Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher out for the whole season.”