Winners and Losers from the Last 32 of the Europa League
As far as close contests, late drama and talking points are concerned, the last 32 of the Europa League was every bit as compelling as the ongoing Champions League round of 16, and perhaps more so.
And given the stakes, the matches played last Thursday and this produced both winners and losers—not only in the ties themselves, but beyond the actual results as well.
Following are winners and losers from the Europa League’s round of 32.
Winner: Garry Monk
The scoresheet from Thursday tells us that Garry Monk was actually a loser. After all, his Swansea side fell 3-1 away to Napoli and crashed out of the competition.
But despite the defeat at the San Paolo, the recently appointed manager acquitted himself well against one of the best sides in Serie A.
For much of the second leg the Premier League outfit appeared comfortable, at times dominant, and only capitulated in the final moments.
In other words, Monk’s team played the Swansea way. They pressed high up the pitch and frustrated their opponents with quick, clever overlaps and accurate distribution.
It was a performance that only bodes well for the 34-year-old’s career in club management.
Ajax may be perched comfortably atop the Eredivisie, but their Europa League campaign was an unmitigated disaster.
Hammered 3-0 at home by Red Bull Salzburg in the first leg of their round of 32 tie, they then fell 3-1 away to the Austrians, who by no means were favoured to progress to the next round, nevermind by a 6-1 aggregate scoreline.
Manager Frank De Boer has already been eyeing up bigger jobs with an eye to a possible summer switch (Spurs are reportedly interested, as per the BBC), and the magnitude of the Ajax defeat will have done nothing to assure him he has pieces to work with in the Dutch capital.
Winner: Emmanuel Adebayor
Cometh the hour...
Tottenham Hotspur were on their way out of Europe before Emmanuel Adebayor struck a four-minute brace on Thursday.
Next to anonymous in the first half, the Togo international was the beneficiary of excellent service from both Christian Eriksen and Ezekiel Fryers and ended up scoring the two goals that put his side into the round of 16 at the expense of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
The 30-year-old has now scored 11 goals in all competitions despite being frozen out of the squad under former manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Loser: Shakhtar Donetsk
One an aspiring heavyweight with Champions League ambitions, Shakhtar Donetsk made an early exit from European football this season, bowing out at the round of 32 following an aggregate loss to Viktoria Plzen.
That they were defeated 2-1 at home in the second leg was particularly surprising, and they’ll now look to fend off the challenges of Metalist Kharkiv and Dynamo Kiev in the Ukrainian Premier League when the schedule restarts.
But to go out in such a fashion will be seen as an embarrassment at Donbass Arena—a ground that had become used to hosting the likes of Barcelona and Manchester Untied in recent seasons.
Winner: Seville (the City)
Sevilla’s 2-1 aggregate win over Maribor and Real Betis' surprising 3-1 scoreline against Rubin Kazan means that both Seville sides are into the last 16 of the Europa League.
In fact, they’ll play city derbies on March 13 and March 20 to determine a quarterfinalist.
Granted, this was less a surprise for Sevilla than it was for Betis.
Los Rojiblancos have been climbing the Primera Division table of late and are presently level on points with seventh-place Valencia.
But Betis, the Spanish basement-dwellers, will have not expected this, and their progression could just be the springboard they need to end what has been a difficult season on a high note.
Loser: Kostas Katsouranis
Kostas Katsouranis' impressive CV includes a Greek double with Panathinaikos, a Portuguese Cup win with Benfica and the 2004 European Championship with Greece.
But the 34-year-old’s continental career could be over after current club PAOK Salonika’s 3-0 loss away to former employers Benfica, Thursday—a match in which he was sent off in the 69th minute.
To that point, PAOK had managed to contain their hosts and were still within a shout to reach the last 16 of the competition, but after Katsouranis' ejection they conceded three goals in 10 minutes and crashed out of Europe.
Still, the midfielder received a standing ovation from the Benfica faithful as he strode off the ground he played on for three seasons.