Europa Recap: Chelsea Progress, Liverpool Fall Just Short, Ajax out on Penalties
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So ends another captivating week of European football.
The Europa League’s match of the day took place at Anfield, where after falling 1-0 behind on the night and 3-0 down on aggregate to Zenit St. Petersburg following Hulk’s 19th-minute opener, Liverpool scrapped back into the tie thanks to a Luis Suarez brace and a goal from Joe Allen just before the break.
Suarez’ second goal, which pulled Liverpool back to 3-3 over the two legs, was particularly eye-catching, as the Uruguay forward’s serving free-kick from all of 30 yards completely evaded the wall on its way to the far right-hand corner of the net.
Zenit shut off shop from there, however, and ended up slipping through to the last 16 of the competition where Basel awaits.
Basel, the Swiss champions, were in excellent shape following their 2-0 win over Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the first leg at St. Jakob-Park, and snuffed out all hope of a Dnipro fight-back when Fabian Schär converted from the spot with nine minutes to play. Yevhen Seleznyov had opened the scoring for the hosts in the 76th minute.
In London, Champions League holders Chelsea made hard work of Sparta Prague, who took the lead after just 17 minutes through David Lafata.
Vaclav Kadlec had done ever so well to hold up the ball inside the Blues’ 18-yard box, and after laying it off to Lafata, the Czech side’s January acquisition was never going to miss from in close.
Chelsea were incredibly wasteful in front of goal for the balance of the match, with Fernando Torres and Ramires both coming close on several occasions. But Sparta, despite a handful of counter-attacks, just couldn’t find the second goal they needed to vanquish their hosts and ended up paying for their own inefficiency in the first minute of second-half stoppage time.
Eden Hazard had replaced Oscar to a chorus of boos shortly after the hour mark—the Chelsea fans had hoped manager Rafael Benitez would have taken off Fernando Torres rather than the Brazilian—but in the end it was an inspired move as the Belgium international ended up scoring the most spectacular goal of the day.
After receiving the ball on the left side of the field and well outside the Sparta box, Hazard weaved past his marker, moved the ball from his right foot to his left and unleashed a venomous drive that left goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik with no chance.
Having won the first leg 1-0 through a late Oscar goal, the 1-1 draw was good enough for Chelsea, and their opponents in the next round will be Romania’s Steaua Bucharest.
Trailing 2-0 on aggregate following the first leg away to Dutch side Ajax, Steaua got a foothold in the tie shortly before the interval through Iasmin Latovlevici, and knotted things up with 14 minutes remaining thanks to a goal from Vlad Chiriches.
An extra half hour at Arena Nationala wasn’t enough to separate the two teams, and so the encounter went to penalties.
Lasse Schöne’s effort for Ajax was stopped by Ciprian Tatarusanu, allowing Steaua to draw first blood, and when Niklas Moisander hammered his shot wide of the net, it fell to Latovlevici to apply the coup de grace. He did not disappoint.
Elsewhere on Thursday, Atletico Madrid beat Rubin Kazan 1-0 but dropped out of the tournament on aggregate, Inter Milan dispatched of Cluj 3-0 to progress, Shola Ameobi’s penalty put Newcastle into the next round at the expense of Metalist Kharkiv and Lazio ousted Borussia Monchengladbach 5-3 on aggregate.
Tottenham Hostpur required a late Mousa Dembele goal to see off Lyon at the Gerland, Stuttgart eliminated Genk following a 2-0 win in Belgium, Benfica beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to advance on a 3-1 aggregate, Bordeaux defeated Dynamo Kiev 1-0 to progress and Baroni Cristian’s penalty was all Fenerbahce would need to advance past BATE Borisov.
A 1-1 draw between Hannover and Anzhi Makhachkala in Germany was enough for the moneybags Russian side to move on, Obafemi Martins finished off an aggregate walloping of Olympiakos at the hands of his Levante side and the surprising Viktoria Plzen beat Serie A’s Napoli 2-0 to progress 5-0 on aggregate.
With the Round of 32 completed, the Round of 16 will be as follows:
Basel-Zenit St. Petersburg
First legs will be played on March 7, with the return matches going seven days later.
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