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Europa League: Last 32 First Legs

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Last 32 (First Legs)

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Tottenham  1

Soldado (6)

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 Fiorentina  1

   Basanta (36)

Tottenham were made to rue not taking their chances in a dominant first half as Fiorentina sneak back to Italy with the advantage. Roberto Soldado’s terrific strike gave the home side an early lead but Jose Maria Basanta’s smash-and-grab before the break gives the visitors a priceless away goal ahead of next week’s return in Florence.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men made into the last 32 after finishing second in a relatively simple group and they were given a stern tie against resolute Italians Fiorentina as punishment for losing out to Besiktas. With four games in the next ten days -including the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea next weekend- the hosts were forced into rotation in order to keep everyone fit. The most notable change was that of top goal scorer Harry Kane, who dropped to the bench in place of the struggling Roberto Soldado. For the visitors, they had comfortably won a group containing Guingamp, PAOK and Dinamo Minsk to reach the knockout stages. They started with German goal-machine Mario Gomez in attack as well as on-loan Chelsea winger Mohammed Salah, who tore Spurs apart for Basel in the same competition a couple of years ago.

An exciting match was expected between these two heavyweights of European football and the opening moments didn’t disappoint. Spurs began on the front foot and Soldado slipped a delightful reverse pass through for Nacer Chadli inside four minutes, although Ciprian Tatarusanu was quick off his line to block away the Belgian’s effort. But the deadlock would be broken from the resulting corner, as Soldado showcased the talents that made the London club part with £25 million last summer. A deep corner drifted straight through to the Spaniard just inside the area and he met it with a sumptuous right-footed volley that belted into the bottom corner for the perfect start.

Image titleRoberto Soldado smashes Spurs into an early lead -

The visitors appeared to be a little of the pace and their slow opening almost resulted in a second for the hosts as Christian Eriksen whipped an effort narrowly over the bar. They came even closer moments later as Soldado showed his renewed confidence with a spectacular overhead kick that required a smart save from Tatarusanu. Fiorentina were being cut apart at will, with Soldado and Paulinho firing wide before Nabil Bentaleb was allowed to run over half the pitch and test Tatarasanu once more.

Quite how Spurs hadn’t extended their lead was a mystery and they were made to rue those missed opportunities as the Italians delivered a sucker-punch at the other end. A cheap free-kick given away by Soldado on the left touchline gave Matias Fernandez the chance to deliver into the box. But the Argentine had other ideas, sending a vicious strike towards goal and causing Hugo Lloris to beat it away from under his own crossbar straight to Basanta, who stabbed home from six yards.

Image titleJose Maria Basanta prods home an unlikely leveller - Reuters

The defender had been besieged by Spurs’ attackers up until that point and his undeserved leveller gave Fiorentina the kick start they needed. Salah and Gomez were slowly gaining more influence on proceedings without creating any openings as the home side looked to regroup. One area in which the visitors still hadn’t woken up was defence, with Andros Townsend and Kyle Walker wreaking havoc down the right. The latter would create the final -albeit golden- chance of the first half, sending over a wonderful cross for Soldado and his header was pushed away by Tatarusanu straight to Chadli, who smashed his strike against the underside of the bar when he should have scored.

The second period began in a much different vein to that of the first with Fiorentina’s away goal allowing them to settle and regroup. Boss Vincenzo Montella made a tactical tweak, dropping Joaquin deeper on the left in order to counteract the marauding runs of Walker and Townsend. The move appeared to pay off as both were significantly more quiet and Spurs’ carving open of the visitors back line had also died down.

The lack of goal-scoring chances prompted Pochettino into making his first change, bringing on Kane for the increasingly ineffective Chadli. The substitution didn’t have an immediate effect, as Gomez twisted Federico Fazio inside and out before smashing a wayward strike over the bar for the away side.

The only real opening for Spurs was Paulinho’s drive from a tight angle that brought a save from Tatarusanu, with the Romanian keeper enjoying a much quieter second half. The match dwindled in the final ten minutes as neither side could create any further chances and both had to settle for a hard-fought draw.

Player Ratings (Out of 10)

Tottenham: Lloris (6), Walker (8), Fazio (6), Vertonghen (7), Davies (6), Bentaleb (7), Paulinho (6), Chadli (6), Eriksen (6), Townsend (7), Soldado (8)        Subs: Kane (5), Lamela (5), Mason (5)

Fiorentina: Tatarusanu (7), Rodriguez (5), Basanta (5), Savic (6), Pizarro (6), Joaquin (7), Fernandez (7), Valero (7), Pasqual (5), Salah (6), Gomez (6)       Subs: Alonso (6), Badelj (5), Ilicic (5)

Man of the match: Kyle Walker (Tottenham)

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BSC Young Boys 1

 Hoarau (10) - Hoarau Missed Penalty (63)

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Everton  4

 Lukaku (24, 38 & 58), Coleman (28)

                Stones Red Card (63)

Everton have one foot in the last 16 of the Europa League after scoring four away goals in a humdinger against Young Boys. Romelu Lukaku was the star, netting a hat trick for the Toffees in between Seamus Coleman tapping them into the lead. All of this was after Guillaume Hoarau had opened the scoring for the home side, and before John Stones’ straight red for a foul on the striker resulted in a penalty, which Hoarau went on to miss.

Roberto Martinez’ side came into this fixture with contrasting form in domestic and European football, as their struggles in the Premier League is a million miles away from the terrific performances in the Europa League group stages. Wins against Wolfsburg home and away, as well as four points from Lille saw the Toffees top their tricky group with a game to spare. For the Swiss outfit, they also managed to negotiate a tough group that contained Italian giants Napoli and Czech Champions Sparta Praha, finishing just one point behind the Partenopei with an impressive twelve points. They have previous against English sides as well, having lost thrilling matches to both Tottenham and Liverpool in recent seasons.

This last 32 tie started in much the same vein, with Guillaume Hoarau beautifully curling the hosts into a tenth minute lead from 25 yards after Raphael Nuzzolo had teed him up. But the response from Everton was a testament to their form in Europe so far this season, with Ross Barkley forcing Yvon Mvogo into a smart near-post save. The pressure was beginning to mount as Barkley and Mirallas fired free-kicks wide, before Lukaku struck the equaliser midway through the first half. Gareth Barry was the architect, whipping a left-footed cross into the box and Lukaku managed to squeeze his towering header into the bottom corner, despite Mvogo’s best efforts.

It was the confidence booster that Martinez’ side needed and they completed a four minute turnaround through marauding right-back Coleman. There was a touch of good fortune to the goal with Steven Naismith picking up the ball in an offside position, but once the linesman kept his flag down the Scottish International drilled a low cross/shot along the face of goal for Coleman to divert in on the stretch at the back post.

Image titleSeamus Coleman puts Everton in front -

The frenetic end-to-end football was making fantastic viewing for the neutral, with Tim Howard pulling off a wonderful double-save from Hoarau’s powerful shot and Nuzzolo’s stabbed rebound six yards out. Hoarau flicked another chance narrowly wide before Lukaku added a third for the visitors by tapping in Barry’s deflected strike from barely a yard out.

Amazingly, there was still seven minutes left of the first half and enough time for Young Boys to come close. Milan Gajic fired a 30 yard daisy-cutter that needed Howard’s diving palm away, although the best chance fell to Sekou Sanogo, who picked up the loose ball from a set-piece and drilled it through a crowd of players, only for James McCarthy to somehow divert it onto the post with his knee.

After a riveting first 45, any fears of tepid second half were quickly blown out of the water as Howard helped a speculative cross/shot over the bar and Lukaku completed his hat trick at the other end. The Belgian striker charged forward on the attack and weaved past a defender to race clear of the Young Boys back line, before clipping his effort past Mvogo to seemingly put the tie out of the hosts reach.

But such was the nature of this phenomenal match, the drama was far from over as John Stones got himself in a muddle trying to recover the ball from Hoarau, and bundled him to the floor. The referee showed no hesitation in brandishing a straight red card for the young defender and pointing to the spot, although Hoarau himself wasted the chance to grab a lifeline when he blazed the resulting penalty high over the bar.

There was still time for Lukaku to miss a tap-in from six yards after Luke Garbett’s fantastic low cross and then waste another one-on-one with Mvogo, as Everton cruised through to the final whistle.

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Liverpool  1

 Balotelli (Pen 85)

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Besiktas  0

Mario Balotelli made it two winners in just over a week as his coolly taken penalty gives Liverpool a slender lead ahead of next week’s trip to Turkey. 

The hosts were eliminated from the Champions League after failing to topple Real Madrid and Basle, from which they were handed a tough first test in the Europa League here. Besiktas are no strangers to English opposition this season having played both North London sides; losing 1-0 on aggregate in a Champions League qualifier to Arsenal before drawing 1-1 against Spurs at White Hart Lane and winning the return 1-0 on their way to topping the group.

All the stats pointed towards a tight game and that’s exactly what the first half was. Jordan Ibe was continuing his development with a bright display but neither he or Coutinho could create an opening for Daniel Sturridge and Co. Instead, it was Besiktas who went closest to breaking the deadlock as Veli Kavlak headed narrowly over the bar, before Liverpool’s Anfield tormentor Demba Ba -who scored that famous goal for Chelsea after Gerrard’s slip in his last appearance against the Reds- raced clear of the back line and brought a fingertip save from Simon Mignolet low to his left.

When the two sides returned after the break Liverpool finally created an opening, but it was wasted by Adam Lallana. A cross from the right caused a mix up between goalkeeper Cenk Gonan and Pedro Franco as the ball squirmed loose to the former Southampton man six yards out, and he lofted it over the bar, much to the disgust of his manager.

The introduction of Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli brought more panic to the Besiktas back line without any other clear cut chances being created. Jordan Henderson dragged a shot wide and Sturridge lobbed an effort onto the roof of the net, before the impressive Ibe was hauled down in the box five minutes from time to gift the hosts a chance of a winner. Balotelli wrestled the ball from Henderson, spotted it up and calmly rolled the winner into the bottom left corner as Gonan dived the other way.

Image titleMario Balotelli rolls in the penalty - Getty Images

Elsewhere In Europe

The story of the night came in Scotland as Celtic fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 down to earn a terrific 3-3 draw with Italian powerhouse Inter Milan, in a re-run of the famous 1967 European cup final. Xherdan Shaqiri and Rodrigo Palacio looked to have put the tie beyond the Scottish Champions after just thirteen minutes but Stuart Armstrong and a Hugo Campagnaro own goal had the match all square midway through the first half. Palacio’s prodded finish put Inter back ahead before on-loan striker John Guidetti pounced in stoppage time to salvage a draw.

Spanish sides Villarreal and Sevilla earned narrow first leg wins while Athletic Bilbao scored twice in Torino to take a 2-2 draw back to the San Mames. French side Guingamp fought back from a goal down to secure a late 2-1 victory at home to nine-man Ukrainian heavyweights Dynamo Kiev, while Andre Villas-Boas’ Zenit St Petersburg pinched a terrific 1-0 win away to Eredivise leaders PSV thanks to a second half strike from Hulk.

Image titleJohn Guidetti celebrates his stoppage time leveller - Getty Images

Other Results

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Our Take

Another terrific night of Europa League action with Everton impressing in particular. Their demolition of Young Boys in Switzerland will surely see them into the last 16 as the Toffees have four away goals in the bank. Lukaku was back to his best after a rough time in front of goal, while Gareth Barry had his best performance for a very long while in midfield. Its a mystery as to why Everton can’t replicate this performance in the Premier League, although the amount of room they were afforded tonight is not becoming of the domestic league.

Mario Balotelli’s upturn in fortunes continued as he notched another winner, but the manner in which he ripped the ball away from captain Jordan Henderson has caused quite a stir. To be fair, if you’re going to do that then you have to score and he did, so in my eyes he did the right thing. Balotelli has an incredible penalty success ratio and to roll it in for the winner only further justifies his actions. The uproar is nothing more than people jumping on it because it is Balotelli.

For Spurs, they should be taking a handsome lead to Fiorentina next week after a terrific opening thirty minutes. Soldado was excellent upfront and his goal was a measure of what he can bring. But a series of misses from Bentaleb, Paulinho, Soldado himself and most notably, Chadli, left the door open for a sucker-punch which Basanta delivered. If ever a player didn’t deserve to score then that was it as the Argentine was torn apart for large spells and never really got to grips with Townsend or Walker.

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