Gareth Bale struck two magical free-kicks as Tottenham Hotspur edged Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 in the Europa League round-of-32 on Thursday, but Liverpool’s hopes were on a knife-edge after a 2-0 defeat at Zenit St Petersburg in Russia.
Bale beat Lyon goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre with a dipping long-range free-kick on the stroke of halftime at White Hart Lane and then repeated the precision in the third minute of stoppage-time at the end of the first-leg tie.
In between, Samuel Umtiti had buried a fierce drive past Brad Friedel in the Spurs goal to keep the French side in the tie.
“I’m delighted. I’ve been practicing free-kicks and I scored one like that last week,” Bale said.
In Russia, two goals in three minutes midway through the second half turned the tide in Zenit’s favor against Liverpool on a badly churned-up pitch in the country’s former Imperial capital.
That makes the home leg at Anfield an uphill struggle, but disappointed Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers tried to put a brave face on the defeat.
“I thought we looked solid and a threat going forward, and could have been in the lead at halftime, but we gave away two poor goals tonight. We ended up losing the game when we should have won it,” Rodgers said.
Big-money Brazilian signing Hulk put the Russians ahead in the 69th minute with a blistering shot from the edge of the area which just clipped Martin Skrtel to wrong-foot Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Then on 72 minutes, Sergei Semak ghosted in behind Skrtel and Glenn Johnson to arrive unmarked on the left and clinically dispatch Aleksandr Anyukov’s cross from the right past Reina.
Racist taunts from some of Zenit’s more vociferous fans, which Liverpool officials had feared after recent incidents at the club, failed to materialize.
In the Czech Republic, Chelsea substitute Oscar wasted no time getting his name on the scoresheet, grabbing the only goal of a largely lackluster game in the 82nd minute against AC Sparta Prague, just 45 seconds after coming off the bench.
Oscar collected a ball from Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard and fired home into the bottom corner of the net.
Newcastle United were held 0-0 at home by Metalist Kharkiv in a game in which the English side’s striker Papiss Cisse had two goals chalked off for offside.
Anzhi Makhachkala beat Germany’s Hannover 96 3-1, despite falling behind to Szabolcs Huszti’s 22nd-minute strike.
Samuel Eto’o put them back on terms, the former Barcelona and Inter striker tapping in a pass from Willian, and Odil Ahmedov put them ahead just after the break, before Moroccan midfielder Mbark Boussoufa sealed it in the 64th minute.
Fellow Russians Rubin Kazan defeated defending champions Atletico Madrid 2-0 in Spain.
SSC Napoli’s players had to face the wrath of the club’s passionate fans at the end of a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing at home to Viktoria Plzen.
Once Vladimir Darida had put the Czech side ahead, Napoli were always playing catchup and were exposed when Frantisek Rajtoral doubled the lead in the 79th minute.
It only got worse when they went in search of a consolation goal as Stanislav Teci made it 3-0 a minute from time.
Also on Thursday, Borussia Moenchengladbach and SS Lazio drew 3-3; Basel beat Dnipro 2-0; VfB Stuttgart were held 1-1 by KRC Genk; Ajax defeated Steaua Bucharest 2-0; BATE Borisov were held to goalless draw by Fenerbahce; Bayer 04 Leverkusen were beaten 1-0 by SL Benfica; Dynamo Kiev and Girondins de Bordeaux drew 1-1; Levante UD beat Olympiakos 3-0; and Inter defeated CFR 1907 Cluj 2-0.