Liverpool scrape into last 16 with Ajax, Benfica
Berne: Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt headed a late goal to send the five-times European champions into the last 16 of the Europa League with a 1-0 victory over a defiant Sparta Prague at Anfield on Thursday.
Ajax Amsterdam and Benfica, two other big names in European football, also went through, the Dutch beating Anderlecht 2-0 and the Portuguese winning by the same score at VfB Stuttgart.
PSV Eindhoven beat Lille 3-1 to progress from a meeting of Dutch and French league leaders while Russian pair Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moscow overcame Swiss opposition in frigid conditions.
Germany captain Michael Ballack was among the scorers as Bayer Leverkusen beat Metalist Kharkiv 2-0 to complete a 6-0 aggregate victory over the Ukrainians.
Big-spending Manchester City qualified with a 3-0 win over Aris Salonika, helped by two goals in the first 12 minutes from recent Bosnian signing Edin Dzeko after a goalless first leg. Yaya Toure added the third with a deflected shot.
They will face Dynamo Kiev, who beat Besiktas 4-0 with Andriy Shevchenko among the scorers for an emphatic 8-1 aggregate scoreline.
Italy`s interest ended when Villarreal beat Napoli 2-1 following last week`s goalless draw. The Spanish side will now meet Leverkusen.
In Kenny Dalglish`s first European home match as Liverpool manager -- the club were banned from Europe during his previous stint -- Kuyt headed in from a corner after 86 minutes to secure victory over the Czechs with extra time looming.
"We deserved it, we had a lot of chances," Dalglish told a channel. "Even after we scored we had a couple. Tough opposition but they hung in, great credit to the lads for their determination and effort to get a result."
The first leg had ended goalless in Prague.
Liverpool will face Braga, who beat Lech Poznan 2-0 for a 2-1 aggregate win, in the next round.
Serb Miralem Sulejmani scored two early goals as four-times European champions Ajax completed a 5-0 win over their Belgian opponents and former UEFA Cup winners Anderlecht.
Benfica`s Eduardo Salvio and Oscar Cardozo, two members of their South American contingent, completed a 4-1 aggregate win for former European champions Benfica over Stuttgart.
The Portuguese will next play Paris St Germain after the French side went through on away goals against BATE Borisov.
Pierre-Alain Frau gave Lille a halftime lead at PSV but Balasz Dzsudzsak, Jeremain Lens and Marcelo replied for the Dutch in an 18-minute spell as they won 5-3 on aggregate.
Russian champions and 2008 UEFA Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg came back from the brink of elimination to beat Young Boys Berne 3-1 and 4-3 on aggregate.
Ammar Jemal gave the Swiss the lead in a game which kicked off in a temperature of minus 9 Celsius, slightly warmer than predicted earlier this week.
Danko Lazovic and Sergei Semak replied for Zenit either side of halftime and Roman Shirokov scored the winner.
Spartak Moscow drew 1-1 at home to FC Basel in even colder conditions -- around minus 15 -- to go through 4-3 on aggregate and earn a tie against Ajax.
With CSKA Moscow qualifying on Wednesday for a last 16 tie with Porto, compatriots Rubin Kazan, who squandered a 2-0 lead at Twente Enschede to draw 2-2 and lose 4-2 on aggregate, were the only Russian side to go out.
Twente will play Zenit in the next round.
Rangers grabbed a stoppage time equaliser through Edu in a 2-2 draw at Sporting that sent the Scottish side through on away goals to set up a clash with PSV.