English clubs Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur reached the last 32 of the Europa League on Thursday while, the Scottish interest in the continental competition came to an end with Celtic getting eliminated from the group stages.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool defeated French side Bordeaux 2-1 at Anfield after enduring the worst possible start to the game when injury-plagued English striker Daniel Sturridge’s comeback from a knee injury was cut short when he hurt his foot in training.
The English side fell a goal down in the Group B clash in bizarre fashion after 33 minutes when goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was penalised for holding onto the ball for 20 seconds rather than the permitted six. Henri Saivet buried the resulting free-kick but Liverpool were level just five minutes later when James Milner scored from the penalty spot after Ludovic Sane fouled Christian Benteke.
Belgian star Benteke then hit what proved to be the winner in first-half injury time with a rasping right-footed drive.
“It was an important night for the whole team because we are in the next round. A few weeks ago we were with three points and now we have nine,” said Klopp.
On Sturridge’s latest setback, he added: “We have to wait for some things, it’s a fight again, we have to be prepared and we will be prepared.”
In-form striker Harry Kane headed Tottenham into the last 32 with his ninth goal in six matches earning Spurs a 1-0 win at Azerbaijani champions Qarabag.
Kane’s decisive second half goal assured the Group J leader’s qualification into the knockout stages with a game to spare.
But, the North Londoners could probably have done without the 8,000-kilometre round trip to the Azerbaijan capital just three days before the visit of Chelsea to White Hart Lane.
Despite the imminent arrival of the ailing Premier League champions, Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino fielded a strong side at Qarabag’s Azersun Arena in Baku.
The first hour was unforgettable, the game finally bursting into life when forward Son Heung-min smashed a shot from the edge of the box with the ball hitting the crossbar.
Qarabag’s Spanish winger Dani Quintana then forced Spurs’ keeper Hugo Lloris into action down at the other end.
Having sprung to life, Tottenham looked the more likely to break the deadlock, and in the 78th minute, they deservedly took the lead.
Christian Erikssen fired in their umpteenth corner from the left with in-form Kane flicking in Son’s header.
Pochettino said: “We will make sure we will arrive in a good condition to play Chelsea. We have a strong squad and a strong mentality, with the maturity.”
On the other hand, Scottish champions Celtic slumped to a 10th consecutive Europa League game without a win -- a 2-1 loss at home to Ajax in Group A.
Callum McGregor had given Celtic a fourth-minute lead at Parkhead but Arkadiusz Milik levelled in the 21st minute for the Dutch side.
Ajax substitute Vaclav Cerny scored the late winner just two minutes from time to keep his team’s qualification hopes alive while Celtic’s fate was sealed when Fenerbahce defeated already-qualified Molde 2-0.
Celtic coach Ronny Deila pleaded for patience and that European success will come.
“We buy talent, players who can be Champions League players,” said the Norwegian.
“Nobody comes in and is a Champions League players the first game. You have to develop them through time and we are going to be ready next year, that is the message to all the fans.”
Elsewhere, Russian side Krasnodar ran out 1-0 winners over already-qualified Borussia Dortmund to go through from Group C.
Also through were Spaniards Villarreal, courtesy of Viktoria Plzen’s 1-0 loss to Minsk.
Swiss champions Basel drew 2-2 with 10-man Fiorentina to go through from Group I while Sporting Lisbon boosted their prospects of escaping from Group H with a 4-2 win at Lokomotiv Moscow.
Lazio continued their Europa League campaign with 3-1 win over Dniepropetrovsk while Sporting Braga went through from Group F thanks to a last-minute winner in a 2-1 home win against Slovan Liberec.