BEVERLY HILLS, March 19, (THEWILL) – Just like in the UEFA Champions League, the full cast of teams that have made it to the next round of the competition in the second-tier of European football, the UEFA Europa League, have emerged after a slew of second leg matches concluded on Thursday night.
While some results were expected and went the way most football pundits predicted they were going to go, like north London side Arsenal progressing on the back of their strong away result from the first leg even though their defensive sloppiness allowed Greek giants Olympiacos a chance for an upset, there were some results that were downright shocking.
The shocker for the night was the elimination of the other north London club Tottenham Hotspur, who came into their reverse fixture against Dinamo Zagreb with the confidence of a 2-0 aggregate victory in the first leg at home and just a day after the news broke that the Dinamo manager Zoran Mamic had been sentenced to jail by the Croatian Supreme Court for fraud, as reported by THEWILL.
With all these obstacles to deal with and a 2-0 deficit to offset, the Zagreb men responsibly discharged their duties to score three unreplied goals in a game of electric football, extra time and a hattrick that left the naturally verbose Spurs’ manager Jose Mourinho looking for the right words to express the depth of his sadness, in a post-match interview where he praised the resilience of Dinamo and accused his team of failing to commit.
Elsewhere, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United banished the nightmare 1-1 draw of their home tie against Serie A second-placed AC Milan with a Paul Pogba super-sub goal to progress by a 2-1 aggregate. Although Granada fell 2-1 to Molde away from home, Granada qualified with a 3-2 aggregate over both legs. Roma’s solid 3-0 home first leg and 2-1 reverse fixture win booked them their quarter-final slot.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian pair of Leon Balogun and Joe Ariyo of the newly crowned Scottish League champions, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, failed to build on their away first leg 1-1 draw on their own home grounds, the Ibrox Stadium. Two red cards did not help as Kemar Roofe got one only six minutes after coming on for a high boot to the face of Ondrej Molar, who had to be subbed off after the incident.
The second red was against Balogun himself, who tried to redeem possession of the ball he lost but caught the opponent Lukas Masopust instead leaving the referee no choice but to issue a second booking and send the defender to an early bath in the 73rd minute. Regrettably, the resultant set piece led to the winning goal and the cards made it difficult for nine men to put up any type of comeback.
However, the loss of the pair of Nigerians in the Rangers team was profitable for another Nigerian in the Slavia Prague side that beat them. The striker for the Czech side, who scored their first goal 14 minutes into the return leg was 25-year-old professional Nigerian footballer Peter Olayinka. They now advance to the quarters with the others that include Villarreal with a 4-nil aggregate win over Dinamo Kyiv and Ajax who defeated Young Boss 5-nil over both legs.
It means the teams that booked a slot for the quarter-final draws are:
Arsenal – England
Granada – Spain
Manchester United – England
Slavia Prague – Czech
Roma – Italy
Dinamo Zagreb – Croatia
Villarreal – Spain
Ajax – Netherlands
The Europa League quarter-final and semi-final draws will take place on Friday, March 19 at the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland. For this stage of the competition, there will be no seeding or country protection rules. Therefore, any side can draw any team unless there are any political reasons teams from different countries cannot compete.
For instance, born Spanish sides remaining, Granada and Villarreal can be drawn against themselves in much the same way as the English sides Arsenal and United can be.
The first legs of the quarter-finals will be played on Thursday, April 8, while reverse fixtures will be played on April 15. The semi-final first leg ties will take place on April 29, while all second leg fixtures will be played on May 6.