>UEFA’s unpredictable Europa League is down to eight clubs after a thrilling Round of 16, so who looks likely to go all the way.
London club Fulham produced the surprise and comeback of the round by stunning Italian giants Juventus 5-4 on aggregate, after trailing 3-1 from the first-leg. David Trezeguet had even put the Old Lady ahead at Craven Cottage early, before goals from Bobby Zamora and Zoltan Gera (who got two) opened up the tie, with Clint Dempsey chipping a great winner late on against nine-man Juve.
Fulham boss Roy Hodgson said: “I would think it must come close to being our best result. I’m on top of the world.” He added: “To reach a quarter-final in this competition is extremely good because we played our first match at the end of July. That’s a nine-month campaign.” The Cottagers can’t be underestimated.
English giants Liverpool loom large after disposing of Lille at Anfield. It was a clinical display from the Reds with a Steven Gerrard penalty and a Fernando Torres strike putting them in control before the Spaniard sealed the deal late. Lille, though, had their chances (Eden Hazard in particular) but Liverpool took theirs.
Reds boss Rafa Benitez said: “They (Lille) were dangerous and have some good players with ability and pace. We needed to score the third goal just in case and it was a bit of a relief.” Liverpool’s prove season could still end with some silverware and they remain one of the big favourites.
Last season’s UEFA Cup losing finalists Werder Bremen crashed out after David Villa’s hat-trick inspired Valencia to an astonishing victory in their tie. It was a stunning contest with Valencia going 2-0 up early before Werder rallied on several occasions. But Villa’s hat-trick ultimately proved the difference.
Valencia boss Unai Emery said: “From the beginning we hoped to reach the final and each game is increasingly difficult. We will fight to the end because we have two objectives, to reach the Champions League and to repeat the title in this competition.” Valencia certainly seem a threat.
Lorenz-Gunther Kostner’s dream run in charge of Wolfsburg continued with a dramatic extra-time victory over Rubin Kazan courtesy of Christian Gentner strike with a minute to go before spotkicks would be required.
Earlier Rubin looked on course with Alan Kasaev putting them ahead, but Obafemi Martins replied after the break and when Cesar saw red for tugging back Edin Dzeko, the German were favourites. Indeed, Gentner went onto to strike late and the in-form German champions remain a threat.
This tie sprung to life in surprising fashion. After a 3-1 first-leg win, HSV looked in control when they went ahead in Brussels late in the first-half through Jerome Boateng before the hosts fought back with two goals before the break.
And Anderlecht went within a goal of qualifying when they led 4-2, but Mladen Petric’s late goal sealed it for HSV. But it was a tense game for Hamburg and things won’t get easier ahead for them. Bruno Labbadia’s side are probably outsiders.
Sergio Aguero’s double sent Spanish club Atletico Madrid into the quarters, courtesy of the away goals rule as they got past Sporting Lisbon. The Madrid club led twice in the contest, but needed goalkeeper David De Gea to produce a freakish second-half save from Saleiro to seal their passage.
Atletico manager Quique Sanchez Flores said: “It is clear that he [Aguero] was crucial, but it would have come to nothing without the work and support of all the team. Overall we played the best we have all season.” Atletico, like Liverpool, may yet rescue something from a dismal season.
Marseille were spectacularly dumped out of the Europa League despite taking the lead on the night and in the tie through Mamadou Niang with 20 minutes to play. Maxi Pereira’s 74th minute long-range strike levelled it, before Alan Kardec shot home deep into injury-time to win it for the Portuguese side.
Benfica centre-back David Luiz said: “It was a tough match and we had trouble getting going, but now I think we have the quality to go all the way to the final.” And Marseille boss Didier Deschamps admitted: “From what we saw tonight, this Benfica team is strong in every department.”
Dieudenne Mbokani’s brilliant individual effort ensured Belgians Standard Liege continued their dream run with an emphatic 4-1 aggregate win over Greek side Panathinaikos. The visitors had a few chances but couldn’t take them and the night belonged to Standard.
Standard’s caretaker coach Dominique D’Onofrio was delighted with his side’s victory but they remain at long odds to take out the title.