Club football returned with a midweek round of continental fixtures around the globe. Here are the picks of the bunch, along with a bonus cupset:
🏆 UEFA Champions League: Barcelona 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
After their disappointing group stage exit last season, Barcelona look set to do better this term as they have a perfect record of three wins from three games so far.
They still seem far from their very best, though, and the nature of their win over Shakhtar Donetsk highlighted that.
The Ukrainian side visited Catalunya with a new head coach as Marino Pušić took over from the sacked Patrick van Leeuwen, and they put together a very spirited display despite going two goals down and gave their hosts a real run for their money at the end.
Barcelona’s injury issues were also worsened as João Félix was forced to go off, but the impressive performances of youngsters such as Fermín López and Marc Guiu will be an encouraging sign.
🏆 UEFA Europa League: Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 Ajax
Brighton & Hove Albion beating Ajax by two goals in a match they comfortably dominated seems a perfectly fair result given how the 2023/24 season has gone thus far, but just a couple of years ago, this was unthinkable.
It is a reflection of the contrasting trajectories the two sides have been on in the last couple of years. Ajax’s downfall began last year but they have nosedived this term. Interim head coach Hedwiges Maduro took charge for the first time in this match, but he could do nothing to prevent his side from being played off the park.
This was a significant result as it arrested a bit of a rotten run of five matches without a win for them, so Roberto De Zerbi’s side will hope that his win gets them back on track.
🏆 UEFA Europa Conference League: KÍ 3-0 Olimpija Ljubljana
KÍ’s story this year has been incredible.
Not content with becoming the first Faroese side to qualify for the group stage of a UEFA competition, they have now notched up their first win at such a stage with a comprehensive success against Slovenian champions Olimpija Ljubljana.
This achievement simply cannot be overstated for a club competing at the continental level with a squad of semi-professional players who have to take up different day jobs to sustain themselves.
They are not even playing at their own home ground as it does not meet UEFA criteria, instead hosting their opponents at the national stadium in Tórshavn.
They are only a couple of points off a spot in the knockout phase at the halfway stage of the group stage. If there is one thing we have learnt in the last few months, it is never to write KÍ off.
🏆 African Football League: Al Ahly 1-1 Simba SC (3-3 on aggregate)
The newly contrived African Football League finally got underway this week. Far from its initially devised format of about 30 teams in various groups, the tournament ended up taking a knockout format starting with quarter-finals as some of the continent’s best teams across its various regions were invited to participate.
Ultimately, this did not seem too dissimilar from the CAF Champions League knockout stage, although few people were complaining about being treated to more high-quality action between some of Africa’s best clubs.
The quarter-finals were closely matched, but none more so than the one between Egyptian champions Al-Ahly and Tanzanian giants Simba.
After an entertaining 2-2 draw in Tanzania, the tie hung in the balance going into the second leg. Al Ahly were the favourites for it and dominated proceedings as expected, but it was the visitor who drew first blood by scoring the opener in the 68th minute.
Al-Ahly had to scrape through on away goals with a 76th-minute equaliser getting the job done.
We are now left with the continent’s four best teams in the semi-finals, so the matches should only get all the more interesting.
🇸🇰 Cup: Lokomotíva Devínska Nová Ves 1-1 Trenčín (6-5 on penalties)
Despite KÍ’s best efforts, the biggest upset of the week came from Slovakia.
Fifth-tier amateur outfit Lokomotíva Devínska Nová Ves, who are based just a few kilometres away from the home of the Slovan Bratislava, the country’s most successful club, did the unthinkable.
They beat top-flight side Trenčín, who won the league and cup as recently as 2016! They even led for a good period of the first half before conceding an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
The hosts then managed to keep the match scoreless until penalties, where they prevailed despite failing to score their first attempt. You will do well to find a bigger upset this year.
Stats courtesy FotMob and Transfermarkt.
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