A Night of Upsets and Comebacks: A Europa League Review
Generally, the qualifying round for the Europa League is seen as somewhat of an unwelcome annoyance for the bigger sides on the path to the group stage. An early season two-legged contest in some far-flung corner of Europe that is passed with relative ease, but one which disrupts the preparation for the more important league contests coming up.
However, this season has seen some of the bigger names in the competition stunned at this early stage, as well as others being given a real fright. We take a look at a couple of the teams who struggled their way through, and some who fell at the first hurdle.
Karpaty Lviv (Ukraine) vs. Galatasaray (Turkey)
The Turkish side have always been formidable opponents in European competition, but following a 2-2 draw in Turkey, they faced an uphill task in Ukraine – a country where a Turkish side has never won.
In a tight game, Karpaty were reduced to 10 men in the second half, and when Galatasaray took a dramatic lead through Aydin Yilmaz after 91 minutes, they looked as though the comeback was complete.
However, there was still time for Artem Fedetskiy to both grab a dramatic 93rd minute equaliser and get himself sent off before the final whistle.
Aston Villa (England) vs. Rapid Vienna (Austria)
‘The Nightmare Returns’
So read the banner unveiled by Rapid fans at Villa Park. Rapid Vienna had shocked Villa last year at this stage, knocking them out on away goals.
This year, following a 1-1 draw in Vienna, Villa looked strong favourites to qualify. And despite going 1-0 and 2-1 ahead on the night, three individual errors from Habib Beye (twice) and Curtis Davies gifted Rapid three goals, and once again, manager-less Villa were out in qualification.
PSV Eindhoven (Holland) vs. Sibir Novosibirsk (Russia)
Less than a decade ago, PSV Eindhoven were Champions League semi-finalists, with a team made up of the likes of Phillip Cocu, Park Ji-Sung, Mark van Bommel and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.
However, in this year’s Europa League, they drew the unenviable task of playing Sibir Novosibirsk – a team from Siberia that is closer to Japan than Holland. After a 1-0 defeat in Siberia, fans were nervous, but the Dutch side showed their quality to win 5-0 on the night.
Markus Berg levelled the tie after 38 minutes, and second half goals from Orlando Engelaar, Ola Toivonen and a brace from Balazs Dzsudzsak saw the Dutch side through comfortably.
FC Utrecht (Holland) vs. Celtic (Scotland)
Celtic were impressive in winning 2-0 against their Dutch opponents in Glasgow, and went to Holland confident of progressing.
However, having given away two penalties in the first 19 minutes, the comeback was complete as the magnificently named Ricky van Wolfswinkel completed his hat-trick just moments after the break, taking his tally to 11 goals in 11 games this season. When Barry Maguire got the fourth, the Scottish side were crashing out in embarrassing fashion.
Fenerbahce (Turkey) vs. PAOK (Greece)
Similar to Galatasaray, Fenerbahce has long been a team that it is desirable to avoid in Europe.
However, following a 1-0 defeat in Greece, they would have been confident of progressing. A second-half Emre strike levelled the tie, but they were unable to find a second goal. Extra-time followed and Zlatan Muslimovic’s cool finish for PAOK meant that the Turks needed two goals to qualify.
They were unable to grab even one and there is now minimal Turkish representation in the Europa League.
Trabzonspor (Turkey) vs. Liverpool (England)
After a 1-0 win at Anfield, Liverpool were a little nervy as they travelled to Turkey. Without the likes of Torres, Gerrard, Mascherano and Agger who all remained in England, it had the potential to be a tough night.
A fourth minute goal from Teófilo Gutiérrez increased the worries. However, they eventually got the all-important away goal when Remzi Kacar put through his own net, and the gloss was added when Dirk Kuyt scored a second just two minutes from time.
Brondby (Denmark) vs. Sporting (Portugal)
Sporting are one of the favourites to go deep into this tournament, but a 2-0 defeat in Lisbon in the first leg put their participation in the tournament under real threat.
Questionable league form had dented their confidence, but they were given hope when Evaldo gave them the lead just before half-time. Nuno Andre Coelho levelled the tie when he made it 2-0 with 15 minutes left to play, and the magnificent comeback was complete when Yannick Djalo slotted the ball home in stoppage time to send the Portuguese side through.
Lokomotiv Moskva (Russia) vs. Lausanne (Switzerland)
Second division Lausanne hoped to continue their fairytale run, having defied the odds to reach the final of the Swiss Cup last season, and progressing through two preliminary rounds to reach this stage.
They drew 1-1 in Switzerland, and went to Russia with nothing to lose. Carlos Silvio stunned the Moscow crowd when he gave the Swiss side the lead, but Aleksandr Aliyev equalised 5 minutes from time to send the game to extra time.
It went all the way to penalties, and when Maicon missed for Lokomotiv, the Swiss fairytale continued.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel) vs. PSG (France)
Following a 2-0 win in Paris, PSG came to Tel-Aviv expecting a simple procession through to the next round. And when Guillaume Horarau converted a 40th minute penalty, their progression looked all but certain.
However, Elran Atar pulled one back minutes after the break, but Ludovic Giuly restored the 3 goal aggregate advantage on 68 minutes. Maccabi did not give up, and when Yoval Avidor and Haris Medunjanin made it 3-2 on the night with 7 minutes remaining, the nerves began to creep in.
Nene equalised in the 90th minute to secure their qualification, but there was still time for Atar to grab his second of the game to seal a stunning victory for Maccabi, despite their failure to qualify.
Stuttgart (Germany) vs. Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia)
After winning in Bratislava, Stuttgart looked to be in full control of this tie. However, Slovan captain, Martin Dobrotka gave them a 9th minute lead, and a real shock looked on the cards when Jakub Sylvestr doubled Slovan's advantage on 53 minutes.
With two away goals, Stuttgart knew they needed to score twice, and were helped by the dismissal of Michal Brezanik only two minutes after the second Slovan goal, and within a minute, they had pulled one back through Timo Gebhart.
And in the 64th minute, Christian Gentner had restored Stuttgart's aggregate lead, which they held on to until the end to secure their qualification.
Many of the other major sides in the tournament secured their qualification with relative ease. Juventus won home and away against Austrian side, Sturm Graz, whilst Palermo's 3-0 first leg win was enough to see them through, despite a 3-2 defeat to Maribor.
Dortmund's 4-0 first leg win settled their tie against Qarabag, as did Villarreal's 5-0 win against Dnepr. Besiktas hammered HJK 4-0 in Finland, and Leverkusen wrapped up a 6-1 aggregate win over Tavriya.
Napoli comfortably cruised past Elfsborg 3-0 on aggregate - the same scoreline that Manchester City beat FC Timisoara by. Finally, Porto completed an impressive 7-2 aggregate win against Belgian side Genk.
These sides will be joined in the group stage by reigning champions, Atletico Madrid, as well as the losers from the final stage of Champions League qualifying - teams that include the likes of Sevilla, Sampdoria and Zenit St. Petersburg.