Sevilla and surprise Qarabag of Azerbaijan among those seeking Europa League advancement
Trophy holders Sevilla are among the clubs looking to claim one of the 10 berths still up for grabs in the Europa League knockout stage in Thursday’s final round of group games.
The Spanish side, who beat Benfica on penalties in last season’s final in Turin, host Rijeka of Croatia needing just a point to progress, while their visitors have to win to advance from Group G alongside Dutch giants Feyenoord.
However, coach Unai Emery has urged his side, who are currently in fourth place in La Liga, to make sure they win the game.
“Our objective is to win the game and be in the hat for the last 32,” Emery wrote on his personal website.
“We feel that we are strong in our own stadium and we hope to maintain that by carefully preparing a game in which (Rijeka) can’t afford to settle for a draw.”
Elsewhere, Borussia Monchengladbach and Villarreal will advance from Group A by avoiding defeat in their games, while Qarabag can become the first club from Azerbaijan to survive in a major European competition into the spring if they can win at home to Italian giants Inter Milan, who are already certain to win Group F.
“We will be playing in front of our fans and this sometimes can add to the pressure,” Qarabag captain Rashad F Sadygov told Uefa’s website, mindful of the fact that a slip-up could see either Saint-Etienne or Dnipro of Ukraine take advantage.
“We have a huge responsibility and just can’t let them down. So we have to be patient and hope God will help us.”
Among the other decisive encounters, Lille welcome Bundesliga high-flyers Wolfsburg to northern France in a direct shoot-out to decide who progresses from Group H along with Everton.
While Wolfsburg can afford to settle for a draw, Lille have to win, something they have yet to do in the group.
Everton are already certain to progress as group winners, which means they will be seeded in next Monday’s draw for the last 32 along with the four third-placed teams with the best records in the Champions League group stage.
Given their current travails in the Premier League, that means manager Roberto Martinez will shuffle his pack when already-eliminated Krasnodar visit Goodison Park, and Ghanaian winger Christian Atsu is one of those looking to get a chance.
“It’s been quite difficult since I came here,” Atsu, who has started just three games since joining on loan from Chelsea, told evertontv.
“I’m working hard for the team and I believe the fans haven’t seen the best of me yet.”
Of the game, the 22-year-old added: “We have a very good team spirit and we want to win every game. We are not treating it like we have qualified – we are not going out to relax.”
Scottish champions Celtic are also already through, although Ronny Deila’s side know they will finish second in Group D to Red Bull Salzburg, rendering their trip to play Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia meaningless.
“The pressure will be off and the gaffer might change the team but we don’t want to let the fans down over there,” said Celtic’s Irish forward Anthony Stokes, scorer of his team’s winning goal in the weekend Premiership win at Motherwell.
Tottenham Hotspur are also through, although in their case first place in Group C is still up for grabs as they go to Istanbul to face Besiktas.
A draw will be enough for Spurs to clinch top spot, but a defeat would see them leapfrogged by the current Turkish league leaders, who reports suggest may be forced to do without leading scorer Demba Ba due to a toe injury.
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Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM