PARIS (AFP) – Liverpool and Manchester City enjoyed a Europa League cruise as a tournament often derided as the Champions League's poor relation gorged on a feast of 78 goals and three hat-tricks.
England midfielder Joe Cole scored the quickest European goal in Liverpool's history - after just 25 seconds - as his team enjoyed a 4-1 victory over fellow former European champions Steaua Bucharest at Anfield.
|Liverpool's Joe Cole (L) celebrates scoring against Steaua Bucharest in the UEFA Europa League at Anfield. AFP|
Roberto Mancini's expensively-assembled Manchester City won 2-0 at Red Bull Salzburg while mighty Juventus were held to a 3-3 draw at home by unfashionable Polish side Lech Poznan.
Poznan's Latvian striker Artjoms Rudnevs grabbed all of his side's three goals while Patrick Helmes of Bayer Leverkusen and Alexandr Kerzhakov of Zenit St Petersburg also hit hat-tricks.
Cole's early strike was his first for Liverpool since joining on a free transfer from Chelsea in the summer.
Cristian Tanase equalised in the 13th minute but David Ngog scored twice and substitute Lucas hit the other to ensure manager Roy Hodgson's decision to leave out Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard did not backfire.
"It's important you make decisions and make them for the right reasons," said Hodgson, who made a total of eight changes from the team which drew 0-0 with Birmingham at the weekend.
"I had no doubt that, given the fact we have so many players who play international football, this was the moment to give them a rest and allow them to prepare properly for Sunday's game (against Manchester United)."
David Silva grabbed his first goal for Manchester City since his 30 million euro move from Valencia as Mancini's team took the lead in Austria after just eight minutes.
The goal was set up by Brazilian striker Jo, who went on to score the second in the 63rd minute after Salzburg keeper Gerhard Tremmel failed to hold a 20-metre drive from Carlos Tevez.
City's Belgian defender Vincent Kompany said he knew Silva would quickly open his goal account.
"He is an amazing player - and like every foreign player he needs time to settle in the Premier League," said Kompany.
"We've seen in training he's an amazing player - he'll be very important for us at times this season."
City share the same Group A as Juventus, the former two-time European champions who were given a huge scare by Poznan.
The Polish visitors were 2-0 ahead after 30 minutes thanks to Rudnevs.
Juve centre-back Giorgio Chiellini pulled one back on the stroke of half-time and then levelled the score five minutes later.
Veteran skipper Alessandro Del Pierro looked to have sealed Juve's comeback by making it 3-2 after 68 minutes with his 52nd career goal in European competition.
But Poznan rallied to grab a point when Rudnevs completed his hat-trick in the last minute.
Defending champions Atletico Madrid suffered a 1-0 defeat at Aris Salonika with Spanish striker Javito hitting a long-distance winner on the hour mark.
The win extended Aris's record of never having lost at home in Europe - a run of 22 games.
In the same Group B, 26-year-old Helmes was the toast of Leverkusen in their 4-0 mauling of Norway's Rosenborg. Stefan Reinartz scored the other goal for the German side.
CSKA Moscow, who won the old UEFA Cup in 2005, began their campaign with a 3-0 win at Lausanne with Brazilian striker Vagner Love scoring two of the goals.
Russia's Zenit Saint Petersburg, the 2008 champions, won 3-1 at Anderlecht with Kerzhakov hitting a first-half hat-trick.
Sevilla, the 2006 and 2007 UEFA Cup champions, lost 1-0 at home to Paris Saint-Germain while FC Porto, the 2004 Champions League winners, saw off Rapid Vienna 3-0.