September 29, 2016 - 2:57 PM
MADRID - Wayne Rooney finally made a difference for Manchester United this season, setting up Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal two minutes after being summoned off the bench to help them beat Ukraine's Zorya Luhansk 1-0 in the Europa League on Thursday.
Inter Milan fell 3-1 at Sparta Prague to lose its second in a row in the European competition, while Mario Balotelli scored again but couldn't prevent Nice from losing at Russian side Krasnodar 5-2. The Italian striker was substituted at halftime with an apparent knee injury.
There was mixed reaction at Old Trafford when Jose Mourinho sent in the much-criticized Rooney in the 67th minute, but his misfired shot bounced to the far post, where Ibrahimovic nodded in.
Rooney was in good position inside the area after a cross from the right flank, but the ball hit off his knee as he attempted a shot, going across the area toward Ibrahimovic.
"We deserved to win but it was difficult," Mourinho said. "They were very well organized defensively as we expected. We had to play, I won't say amazingly well because we didn't, but we had to play well to win."
Mourinho didn't start Rooney after saying he wanted to protect his captain from a media backlash if he had another poor performance.
It was a crucial win for United, which was coming off a 1-0 loss at Feyenoord in its Europa League opener. The English side moved off the bottom of Group A. Turkey's Fenerbahce, which defeated Feyenoord 1-0 at home, led by a point after two matches.
United controlled possession against Zorya but created very few scoring chances, with the best early on when Marcus Rashford struck the crossbar.
SPARTA 3, INTER 1
Inter Milan's opening loss to Hapoel Beer-Sheva became less shocking when it fell at Sparta Prague and dropped to last in Group K.
A three-time champion, Inter has lost four straight in European competitions. It arrived boosted by a come-from-behind win over Juventus in Serie A, but produced another poor performance in European competition at Generali Arena.
"We weren't focused," Inter coach Frank de Boer said. "We made too many mistakes, giving easy balls to our opponents. We need to get a lot better in that regard, otherwise we're going to find every match very difficult."
Forward Vaclav Kadlec scored twice in the first half for Sparta, which moved to second place in the group. Hapoel and Southampton, which drew 0-0 in Israel, lead by one point. Inter has yet to earn a point.
Striker Rodrigo Palacio pulled Inter back into the game with a goal in the 71st, but defender Mario Holek sealed the victory for the hosts just a minute after Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia was sent off in the 75th for a second yellow card.
KRASNODAR 5, NICE 2
Balotelli scored but Nice lost at Russian side Krasnodar in Group I. To make things worse, the Italian forward was substituted at halftime, apparently because of a knock to his knee while scoring his fifth goal in four games.
Brazilian forwards Joaozinho and Ari scored two goals each for Krasnodar, which leads the group with Schalke. The German team beat Salzburg 3-1.
Group G leader Ajax defeated Standard Liege 1-0 to end a run of five consecutive home draws in Europe, while 10-man Shakhtar Donetsk topped Braga 2-0 in Group H. Fiorentina routed Azerbaijan's Qarabag 5-1 with three goals in eight minutes just before halftime, including a pair by Senegalese striker Khouma Babacar, and Steaua Bucharest and Villarreal exchanged first-half goals in a 1-1 draw in Romania in Group L.
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News from © The Associated Press, 2016