Joy and pain for big guns
Everton, Benfica, Hamburg, Fenerbahce and Red Bull Salzburg confirmed their places in the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League on Wednesday, but Lazio and Celtic crashed out of European competition.
Hamburg made sure of their spot in the last 32 with a 2-0 victory at home to Rapid Vienna, thereby rendering Celtic's 2-0 win against Hapoel Tel-Aviv at Celtic Park immaterial and also securing the progress of the Israeli side. Benfica won 2-1 at Belarusian outfit BATE Borisov to seal top spot in Group I, with Everton making sure of second place by beating AEK Athens 1-0 in Greece via a well-taken goal by Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in the sixth minute.
"I am pleased with how the young boys who came on did," said Everton coach David Moyes, who lost both Dan Gosling and Sylvain Distin to injury inside the first 15 minutes and had to hand a debut to 17-year-old defender Shane Duffy. "It's great experience for them. One or two are maybe stepping up a bit soon but it's needs must at the moment."
Javier Saviola and Fabio Coentrao were both on target for Portuguese giants Benfica, who are assured of the top berth in the group with one game remaining due to a superior head-to-head record against Everton.
Red Bull Salzburg's 2-1 victory over Lazio was their fifth straight win in the competition. It sent the Austrian champions through as Group G winners and Lazio cannot catch second-placed Villarreal after the Spanish side won 2-0 at Levski Sofia. Somen Tchoyi's fine solo goal with 12 minutes remaining proved the difference between the sides after Lazio midfielder Pasquale Foggia had cancelled out Rabiu Afolabi's 52nd-minute opener.
Giuseppe Rossi and Marcos Senna were the scorers in Villarreal's victory in Sofia and the Spanish side are guaranteed to finish second in their group despite being only three points ahead of Lazio with a game to play due to a better aggregate record against Davide Ballardini's charges.
Georgios Samaras's flying 22nd-minute header and a stylish free-kick by Barry Robson earned Celtic their first win in the competition against Hapoel. The 2003 runners-up needed Hamburg to lose to stand any chance of going through though, and the Bundesliga outfit secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over Rapid Vienna with second-half goals by Marcell Jansen and Marcus Berg.
Valencia took over the Group B summit by defeating previous pool leaders Lille 3-1 thanks to a brace from Joaquin and a second-half Juan Mata strike, with the other game in the group between Genoa and Slavia Prague ending in a 0-0 draw that eliminates the Czech side but keeps the Italians in the hunt. In Group H, Fenerbahce made sure of qualification by beating second-placed Twente 1-0, while Moldova's Sheriff Tiraspol remain in contention after a 1-1 draw at home to Steaua Bucharest ended the Romanians' hopes.
Ajax were already assured of their progress from Group A, and won 2-1 at Timisoara, Luiz Suarez scoring once and missing two penalties, as goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon and defender Eder Bonfim were sent off for the home side. Dinamo Zagreb won 1-0 at Anderlecht to keep their hopes alive.
Groups D, E, F, J, K and L play their matchday five games on Thursday. The top two teams from each of the 12 groups go through to the round of 32, where they will be joined by the third-placed teams from the UEFA Champions League group phase, which include five-time European champions Liverpool.