Liverpool, Paris St Germain (PSG), Besiktas, Dynamo Kiev, Sparta Prague and Villarreal reached the knockout stages of the Europa League on Thursday in contrasting fashions. Freezing temperatures continued across Europe, but the hardy souls who braved the weather were treated to a flurry of goals.
PSG sealed their passage to February’s last 32 with a 4-2 home romp over Sevilla, who must fight it out against Borussia Dortmund for the second qualification spot when they meet the Germans in the final Group J game on Dec. 15.
Dortmund moved a point behind Sevilla with a 3-0 win over Karpaty Lviv.
Besiktas went through from Group L following a tight 2-1 win at CSKA Sofia, while Rapid Vienna went down to Falcao’s treble in a 3-1 home defeat by Porto, who had already secured their progression.
Dynamo Kiev triumphed 4-1 at already-qualified BATE Borisov to qualify, meaning AZ Alkmaar’s 1-1 draw at Sheriff Tiraspol in the other Group E tie was irrelevant.
Milan Jovanovic, little used in the Premier League, put Liverpool in front at Steaua Bucharest with a powerful first-half header and although Eder Bonfim equalized, the point was enough to send the five-time European champions through.
“It was a big ask for those players to stand up to some of the pressure and deal with the quality football Steaua played,” coach Roy Hodgson told a news conference after the 1-1 draw. “It’s a good achievement -considering we have gone through this Europa League campaign giving many players a chance to play who don’t normally play in the Premier League.”
Goals flowed in the other Group K game where Uruguay World Cup striker Edinson Cavani grabbed a hat-trick in Napoli’s 3-3 draw in Utrecht, where forward Ricky van Wolfswinkel also scored twice for the hosts in vain.
The draw meant Napoli are the only Italian side still in the hunt as they lie two points behind Steaua ahead of a last home game against the Romanians on Dec. 15.
Palermo bowed out with nine men despite twice being ahead as Sparta Prague went through with a 2-2 draw in Sicily. Dorin Goian was dismissed after the break for a second booking and Javier Pastore was sent off in stoppage time.
Already-qualified CSKA Moscow celebrated Russia winning the right to host the 2018 World Cup with a 5-1 home thrashing of -eliminated Lausanne with Tomas Necid netting a brace in the other Group F encounter.
Stefan Scepovic leveled a minute from time to give Club Bruges a 1-1 draw at PAOK Salonika and send new Group D leaders Villarreal through with a 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in Spain.
Groups A-C and G-I played on Wednesday with twice European champions Juventus the biggest name to go crashing out.
In Group A, Manchester City and Lech Poznan advanced, while in Group B Bayer Leverkusen and Aris Thessaloniki made the cut. In Group C, Sporting Lisbon and Gent advance.
In Group G, Zenit St Petersburg and AEK Athens join the last 32, in Group H it will be Stuttgart and Young Boys and in Group I it will be PSV Eindhoven and Metalist Kharkiv.