Real Betis strengthened their lead at the top of UEFA Europa League Group C with three wins from their first four matches, thanks to a routine 4-1 victory at home to Aris Limassol on Thursday. Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini rested players such as Isco and Ayoze Perez, but his side was too strong for the Cypriot outfit, with Borja Iglesias opening the scoring in the 33rd minute after a move involving Eze Abda and Luiz Henrique, reports Xinhua. Aitor Ruibal doubled Betis’ lead in the 64th minute with the assistance of Ayoze and Isco, who had just come on as substitutes. There was further good news for Betis after Nabil Fekir returned to action months out with a knee injury, although Isco’s gesture of allowing him to take a 75th-minute penalty backfired when Fekir’s effort was saved.
Fekir’s miss didn’t matter as Marc Roca netted Betis’s third of the night four minutes later, and Abde hit the fourth after Aleksandr Kokorin had netted a consolation goal for Limassol. Rangers, drawing 0-0 with Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic last month, took the lead through Brazilian striker Danilo after 11 minutes before midfielder Todd Cantwell added a second in the 20th minute on Thursday. Substitute Lukas Haraslin pulled one back for Prague in the 77th minute. Betis lead the group with nine points ahead of Rangers on seven. Prague are third while Limassol stay at the bottom. Two late goals allowed Villarreal to claim an important 2-1 win in their Group F match against Maccabi Haifa, which was played behind closed doors in Cyprus.
Abdoulaye Seck headed Maccabi ahead after half an hour, as the Villarreal defense gave him a free header from a cross following a set piece. Villarreal had a great chance to level the game in the 35th minute when they were awarded a penalty for a foul on Ben Brereton, but Maccabi keeper Shareef Keouf first saved at full stretch from Alexander Sorloth, and then from Manu Trigueros after the referee adjudged a player to have encroached into the area. The game changed with the entry of Alex Baena as a second-half substitute, with the Spain international equalizing in the 82nd minute and then driving in a shot that Keouf could only parry for Sorloth to net the winner four minutes later. Rennes cruised past Panathinaikos 3-1 to stay atop the group ahead of Villarreal.