The UEFA Cup group stage wrapped up this week, with the rest of the slots for the competition’s round of 32 being filled.
There was at least one place up for grabs in several of the eight groups, which meant for several sides, there was much to celebrate the past two nights, and for others, nothing but disappointment and heartbreak.
Everton went into the final day of the group stage already having sealed top spot in Group A, with three wins from their first three matches.
The other two spots were up for grabs, however, between already-finished Zenit St. Petersburg (5 points), AZ Alkmaar (4), and Bundesliga strugglers Nurnberg.
On Thursday, James Vaughan’s 79th minute winner propelled Everton to a 3-2 victory in Holland, putting an end to AZ’s 32-match home unbeaten mark. More importantly, it sealed Zenit’s place in the round of 32, and knocked AZ out of the competition, as Nurnberg won 3-1 away to Greek side Larissa.
Everton finish as one of two sides in the competition to win all four of their group matches, with Nurnberg finishing second on 7 points, and Zenit taking the third and final qualification spot.
Final Standings: Everton 12, Nurnberg 7, Zenit St. Petersburg 5, AZ Alkmaar 4, Larissa 0
Heading into the final match day, Atletico Madrid and Panathinaikos had already secured their spots in the round of 32, but their clash in Spain would decide the group winner. The last spot was to come down to FC Copenhagen and SPL side Aberdeen, with the Dons facing a must-win situation at Pittodrie.
Aberdeen had lobbied for the SPL to postpone their league tie with Motherwell to give them more time to prepare for the tie, but it turns out they didn’t need it, as a quartet of second-half goals produced an emphatic 4-0 win for the home side, and a place in the UEFA Cup round of 32.
In the other match in the group, Atletico Madrid overcame a late 1-0 deficit at home, with Simao’s last-minute free kick giving the La Liga side a 2-1 victory and top spot in Group B by one point over Panathinaikos.
Final Standings: Atletico Madrid 10, Panathinaikos 9, Aberdeen 4 (-1), FC Copenhagen 4 (-6), Lokomotiv Moscow 2
Villareal entered the final match day on top of the group with seven points, followed by Fiorentina and AEK Athens on five points. Those three were best positioned for a place in the round of 16, but Czech side Mlada Boleslav, who were on three points, had a chance to qualify with a win in Italy.
But, Christian Vieri sealed Fiorentina’s place in the next round with a 67th minute strike giving them a 2-1 win. In the group’s other tie, Jon Dahl Tomasson’s 69th minute goal gave Villarreal a 2-1 win away to AEK. So, the 2006 Champions League semifinalists finish top of Group C, with ten points, with Fiorentina second with eight, and AEK taking third.
Final Standings: Villareal 10, Fiorentina 8, AEK Athens 5, Mlada Boleslav 3, Elfsborg 1
A 1-1 draw on Thursday with Swiss side FC Basel gave Hamburg SV top spot in Group D, with Basel finishing second with eight points.
Recently-crowned Norwegian champions SK Brann, having already finished their group campaign with four points from four matches, were made to sweat on Thursday, as Rennes and Dinamo Zagreb were both on two points but in a position to qualify if one took all three points from their clash in France.
But, the spoils were shared between the two sides, with a 1-1 draw meaning they both crash out of the UEFA Cup, with Brann moving on to the round of 32.
Final Standings: Hamburg SV 10, FC Basel 8, SK Brann 4, Dinamo Zagreb 2, Rennes 2
All three qualification places had been secured in Group E going into the final match day, but the order was yet to be decided. Spartak Moscow entered Wednesday on top of Group E with seven points, with Bayer Leverkusen on six, along with Swiss side FC Zurich.
A 5-0 rout of Zurich not only rounded off Bayer’s group campaign in style, but also put them atop the group, due to previously-pointless Toulouse defeating Spartak 2-1.
Final Standings: Bayer Leverkusen 9, Spartak Moscow 7, FC Zurich 6, Sparta Prague 4, Toulouse 3
Bolton entered Wednesday in a position to qualify, after taking six points from their four group games, but with Bayern Munich (5), Greek side Aris Salonika (5), and Portuguese side Braga (3) all with a chance to qualify depending on the day’s results, it could have been an extremely agonizing night for Gary Megson and his Trotters.
Luca Toni will be in the nightmares of Aris Salonika goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias for quite a while, after Toni put four goals past him in a 6-0 Bayern rout. The result secured top spot in the group for Bayern and sent Aris crashing out, as a result of Braga’s 2-0 win over Crvenz Zvedza. Braga take second spot on goal difference, and Bolton can wring out their shirts after sneaking through to the next round in third place.
Final Standings: Bayern Munich 8, Braga 6 (+2), Bolton 6 (+1), Aris Salonika 5, Crvena Zvezda 0
Getafe, who are struggling to stay above the relegation zone in La Liga, aren’t having the same troubles in the UEFA Cup, as their 2-1 win over Anderlecht secured top spot in Group G.
Tottenham had already sealed their place in the final 32 with a draw against Anderlecht in their last group match, so there were no worries for Spurs.
While Spurs could rest easy, Israeli side Hapoel Tel-Aviv can only kick themselves after missing a glorious opportunity to reach the round of 32. Hapoel would have gone through with a victory at home to AaB, but disappointingly crashed out with a 3-1 loss.
As for Anderlecht, while they’re not in the good graces of UEFA currently, they are safely through to the next round, finishing in third spot and advancing despite getting only two point from their last three matches.
Final Standings: Getafe 9, Tottenham 7, Anderlecht 5, AaB 4, Hapoel Tel-Aviv 3
Before Everton wrapped up their perfect group run, Bordeaux did it first, leaving it late away to Panionios, but Wielfried Moimbe’s 87th minute goal gave the French side a 3-2 win and a perfect record in group play.
The result also sent the Greek side out of the competition, when only a draw would have sent them through to the round of 32. Galatasaray went through in the third spot instead, with their 0-0 draw against Austria Vienna enough to send the Turkish side through on goal difference.
The other team to go through in the group is Swedish side Helsingborg, who finished second with seven points after wrapping up their group campaign two weeks ago. Helsingborg have two of the three joint-top scorers in the competition, in the ageless Henrik Larsson and Beninese striker Razak Omotoyossi, who both have six goals in the competition, along with Bayern’s four-star Toni.
Final Standings: Bordeaux 12, Helsingborg 7, Galatasaray 4 (+1), Panionios (-3), Austria Vienna 1
The eight first-placed sides will played the third-placed sides from the competition, while the second-place finishers will take on the eight third-placed teams from the Champions League – Marseille, Rosenborg, Werder Bremen, Benfica, Rangers, Sporting, PSV Eindhoven, and Slavia Prague.
The draw for the round of 32 and the round of 16 will take place on Friday, along with the draw for the Champions League round of 16, and Soccerlens will be reporting on both, so keep coming back, or there’ll be coal in your stockings come Christmas day!