United avoid disaster, Spanish sides cruise
Manchester United squeezed through to the UEFA Europa League last 16 today despite losing 2-1 to Ajax at Old Trafford, while former champions Atletico Madrid became Spain's third team on the day to progress to the next stage.
Sir Alex Ferguson's United went through 3-2 on aggregate and will face Athletic Bilbao in the next round. Mexican star Javier Hernandez scored his tenth goal of the season after six minutes, but Ajax threatened to spoil the party when Aras Ozbiliz levelled in the 37th minute and Toby Alderweireld headed an 87th-minute second-leg winner.
"I've got to accept I'm responsible for picking the team and tonight I picked too many young players in the back four positions - that was a big problem in terms of experience. It was a big risk I took," said Ferguson. "Ajax are fantastic at keeping the ball."
"That (first) goal gave them confidence and we only had one shot in the second half. I thought we were very poor in the second half."
Valencia joined La Liga neighbours Athletic Bilbao in advancing to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League today as both sides emerged victorious in their last-32 second-leg ties.
Valencia started their home tie against Stoke City boasting a 1-0 lead, and their task became easier when Brazilian forward Jonas gave them a 24th-minute lead which was never challenged by the English Premier League side.
It gave the Spanish side a 2-0 aggregate success and put them into a last-16 tie against PSV Eindhoven, who should prove formidable opponents after a 4-1 thrashing of Trabzonspor for a 6-2 aggregate win.
Athletic Bilbao had an arguably bigger challenge against Lokomotiv Moscow following a 2-1 defeat by the Russians in the first leg last week. However, their away goal in the Russian capital proved crucial as the Spaniards could only scrape by with 1-0 win in Bilbao thanks to winger Iker Muniain's 62nd-minute winner.
Atletico cruise past Lazio
Former champions Atletico Madrid, who were in action later today, made it three Spanish clubs into the last 16 after having claimed a 3-1 first-leg win over Lazio. The Serie A side failed to overturn their first-leg defeat to Atletico, as the Spanish club went through 4-1 on aggregate.
Steaua Bucharest's dream of making it to the 9 May final in their own National Stadium was brought crashing down by a 1-0 defeat to FC Twente. A opportunistic goal just before the half hour from Nacer Chadli was enough to send Steve McClaren's side through 2-0 on aggregate.
Belgian interest in the competition, meanwhile, now lies with Standard Liege, who also had away goals to thank for their qualification after a scoreless draw at home against Wisla Krakow, having drawn 1-1 in Poland last week. Club Brugge were sent packing after a 1-0 home loss to Hannover gave the Bundesliga side a 3-1 aggregate victory over the two legs.
Udinese turned on the firepower to escape potential disaster in Greece, the Italians scoring two first-half goals and adding a second after the break for a 3-0 away win against PAOK Salonika to remain the only Italian club left in the competition.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored a hat-trick including two goals in extra time as Schalke nudged past Viktoria Plzen 3-1 and 4-2 on aggregate.
Yesterday, Manchester City secured their place in the last 16 with a 4-0 second-leg win over defending champions FC Porto.