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Michael Owen strike seals victory for Liverpool

London: Liverpool, winners of the Uefa Cup in 2001 and favourites to repeat that success after their Champions League elimination, secured a valuable 1-0 first- leg win at Vitesse Arnhem on Thursday.

The English side, among eight third-placed finishers in the Champions League first phase groups to join the competition at the third round stage, won with a Michael Owen strike.

AEK Athens crushed Maccabi Haifa 4-0 but other sides whose interest was ended in European football’s premier competition fared less well.

Dynamo Kiev crashed to a 1-3 defeat at Turkish league leaders Besiktas while Club Bruges lost 1-2 at home to VfB Stuttgart.

France boast five teams in the Uefa Cup but it was a night to forget for four of those in action Thursday.

AJ Auxerre, RC Lens and Girondins Bordeaux all lost with only Olympique Lyon, who drew 0-0 away to Denizlispor, restoring a modicum of pride.

Scottish champions Celtic secured their eighth straight home victory in European competition, a Henrik Larsson goal giving them a narrow 1-0 advantage over Celta Vigo, while Leeds held Malaga to a 0-0 draw in Spain.

Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier has made no secret of the fact that he considers the Uefa Cup secondary to winning the English Premier League, especially after their narrow failure to qualify for the second group stage of the Champions League.

Houllier still fielded a strong side against Arnhem and was rewarded with a first-half winner from Owen.

Missed chances

The England striker slotted home from eight metres in the 27th minute but later missed a string of great chances to have sealed an emphatic victory.

The Dutch side, who improved after the break, should have equalised late on but Kalle Sone somehow missed with the goal gaping.

“If you had given us a 1-0 victory before the game we would have bitten your hand off,” Owen said.

“Obviously we would have liked a more comfortable victory but we missed some chances and their ’keeper played well.”

In Austria, up-for-sale Serie A club Lazio fielded a second-string side at Sturm Graz but eased to a 3-1 win, despite falling a goal behind.

Charles Amoah fired the home side ahead on the stroke of halftime but Simone Inzaghi struck twice for the 1998 finalists, the only Italian side left in the competition, after Enrico Chiesa had equalised.

AJ Auxerre and RC Lens, who both joined the Uefa Cup after suffering Champions League disappointment, lost on their travels.

Auxerre gave themselves a fighting chance of progressing though after losing 0-1 to Spaniards Real Betis, who have their sights on making the final to be held in their home city of Seville next May. A 10th minute penalty from striker Alfonso divided the sides.

Lens face a massive task in the second leg after Helder Postiga scored twice and Eggaras Jankauskas added a late third to hand Portuguese league leaders Porto a 3-0 victory.

Birger Maertens’ 70th minute dismissal proved costly for Belgium’s Bruges. They led Stuttgart after Peter van der Heyden netted a 42nd minute opener but goals in the last 19 minutes from Krassimir Balakov and Kevin Kuranyi handed the Germans victory.

Dynamo Kiev endured a miserable night in Istanbul. The Ukrainians did go in front but three goals without further reply, the last a spectacular strike from Pascal Nouma, left them with plenty of work to do in the second leg.

Goal blitz

The most comprehensive first-leg winners were AEK Athens who netted four first-half goals to blitz Israel’s Maccabi Haifa.

Sweden striker Larsson gave Celtic hope of staying in Europe beyond Christmas for the first time in 23 years, heading the only goal against Celta Vigo from close range after 52 minutes.

Under-fire Leeds coach Terry Venables could draw some satisfaction after the struggling English side kept a clean sheet for the first time in six matches.

England striker Alan Smith forced a fine save from Malaga keeper Pedro Contreras while Paul Robinson matched that late on by denying Malaga forward Dely Valdes.

Elsewhere, a late equaliser from Emile Mpenza gave 1997 winners Schalke 04 a valuable away goal in a 1-1 draw with Wisla Krakow, while Slovan Liberec, quarter finalists in the competition last year, drew 2-2 at home to Panathinaikos.

Celtic manager Martin O’Neill said he plans to send Uefa a video of the tie against Celta Vigo, during which he was ordered to leave the side of the pitch by French referee Claude Colombo.

The official appeared to manhandle O’Neill after ordering him to the stands when the Northern Irishman complained about a foul given against scorer Henrik Larsson in the closing moments. “It was inappropriate,” O’Neill said at Celtic Park after the match.

“Whether you have any chance of doing anything about it, I would say no chance, but I would certainly want to send some video evidence of that particular incident.

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