Europa League: Napoli, Leverkusen lose; Ajax wins first leg
NAPOLI 0-3 VIKTORIA PLZEN
Napoli face a momentous task to stay in the Europa League after they went down 3-0 at home to Viktoria Plzen at the San Paolo.
Plzen silenced the home crowd 28 minutes in when Vladimir Darid popped up in the box to find the corner with a sweetly-struck left-footed shot.
Napoli sprayed the visiting goal with shots in the second half, with Marek Hamsik and and Juan Zuniga both guilty of wasting opportunities from the edge of the area. Their wasteful finishing came back to haunt them, however, as the Czech side doubled their lead 10 minutes from time. Frantisek Rajtoral ghosted in at the back post to squeeze a shot into the bottom left corner.
A horrendous night for the Italians got worse when Stanislav Tecl broke the offside trap before coolly finishing into the corner.
AJAX 2-0 STEAUA BUCHAREST
Ajax moved a step closer to the last 16 after a comfortable 2-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest at the Amsterdam Arena.
The Eredivisie champions controlled possession from the off, and barring a few speculative efforts at goal from the Romanian outfit, looked the most likely side to open the scoring in the first period.
They eventually found the net just before the half-hour mark when Christian Eriksen whipped in a free kick from the right flank for Toby Alderweireld to head in from close range.
The hosts came flying out of the blocks after half-time, and struck again when Ricardo van Rhijn received a pass from Siem De Jong before slotting a shot into the bottom left corner.
BATE BORISOV 0-0 FENERBAHCE
BATE Borisov and Fenerbahce played out a 0-0 stalemate at the Stadyen Nyoman, with Raul Meireles seeing red for the hosts after just four minutes for inexplicably kicking out at Aliaksandr Hleb.
Hleb was the player who looked most likely to make something happen in the first half; the Belarusian came close to opening the scoring when he fired a left-footed strike at goal from the edge of the area, only to see his attempt well saved by Volkan Demirel.
The one-man advantage spurred BATE on, but they struggled to convert their domination of the ball into goals.
They had the misfortune of coming up against an in-form Demirel, who kept his side in the match with a string of saves. Vitali Rodionov had the best of the attempts when he lashed a strike towards the bottom right corner, only for the Fenerbahce `keeper to turn the ball round the post with his fingertips.
LEVERKUSEN 0-1 BENFICA
An opportunistic strike from Oscar Cardozo gave Benfica a vital away goal as the Portuguese outfit emerged 1-0 winners over Leverkusen at the BayArena.
The German side had the better of the first 45 minutes and enjoyed the vast majority of the possession, but their finishing let them down. Stefan Kiessling and Gonzalo Castro should have put their side ahead, but missed with a close-range header and curled shot from inside the box respectively.
The visitors took advantage of Leverkusen`s wastefulness, and opened the scoring on the hour mark. Cardozo side-stepped the challenge of Daniel Schwaab before delightfully dinking the ball over goalkeeper Bernd Leno, giving the hosts a lesson in finishing.
DYNAMO KYIV 1-1 BORDEAUX
Nothing could separate Dynamo Kyiv and Bordeaux as the Europa League hopefuls played out a 1-1 draw in Ukraine.
Twenty minutes in, the match came to life. The hosts drew first blood when Lukman Haruna latched on to a cross from Taye Taiwo to smash a right-footed shot into the roof of the net.
However, Bordeaux replied almost instantly when Ludovic Obraniak picked up the ball on the edge of the box and found the bottom corner with a lovely left-footed strike.
Niko Kranjcar came within inches of restoring the lead shortly after the break when he fizzed a shot towards the top corner, only for Cedric Carrasso to tip the ball over the bar with a strong hand.
The hosts were given a glorious chance to go ahead lead 15 minutes from time when Oleg Gusev was fouled inside the area. However, the Ukrainian smashed his penalty kick off the bar, allowing Bordeaux to escape with a draw.
LEVANTE 3-0 OLYMPIAKOS
Levante took a massive stride towards the next round with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Olympiakos.
The hosts started the match the brighter of the sides, and opened the scoring after just 10 minutes. Jose Barkero threaded a pass through the middle for Pedro Rios, who lashed a strike into the bottom left corner.
Things got from bad to worse for the Greek side just before the half-hour mark when Djamel Abdoun saw red for a professional foul on Pedro Lopez inside the box. However, they were let off the hook when Obafemi Martins put the resulting penalty wide of the left-hand post.
Olympiakos did not heed previous warnings, though, as just before the break they conceded another penalty. This time Barkero stepped up to coolly dispatch the kick into the bottom corner.
The match was put all but put to bed 10 minutes after the break when the Spanish side counterattacked at pace down the middle and when the ball came to Martins, the former Newcastle and Inter man expertly finished past Balazs Megyeri.
Juan Ignacio Martinez`s men now take a commanding lead over to Greece.
ANZHI 3-1 HANNOVER
Anzhi Makhachkala took a giant step towards the Europa League round of 16 on Thursday thanks to a 3-1 victory over Hannover in Dagestan.
However, it was their German visitors who took the lead inside 22 minutes when Hungarian winger Szabolcs Huszti powered home a strike from the edge of the box courtesy of Mame Diouf`s lay-off.
Yet 12 minutes later, the comeback was on. Willian, on his Anzhi debut, burst down the right flank and drilled in a cross for Samuel Eto`o to tuck away with the goal at his mercy.
Shortly after the restart, Yuri Zhirkov`s inch-perfect through ball was latched onto by Odil Ahmedov to put Guus Hiddink`s side ahead for the first time in the match.
On the cusp of the hour mark, the former Barcelona and Inter forward was hauled down in the box by Christian Schulz, but his penalty was parried away by the Hannover goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler.
Nonetheless, the Russians sealed the first-leg success on 64 minutes - Mbark Boussoufa wrapping up a quick-fire break with a weighted finish to ensure advantage Anzhi.
MONCHENGLADBACH 3-3 LAZIO
A rather incredible match in Germany saw Lazio break Borussia Monchengladbach hearts by equalising in the last minute of stoppage time to secure themselves a thrilling 3-3 draw.
On 17 minutes, Patrick Herrmann`s mazy dribble in the box attracted a foul from Andre Dias, allowing Foals captain Martin Stranzl to stroke home the resulting spot kick.
Yet Lazio were back in with a shout on 58 minutes when Sergio Floccari sent in a bullet header from Antonio Candreva, and just six minutes later, Libor Kozak`s flick past Marc-Andre ter Stegen appeared to seal redemption for the Romans.
Vladimir Petkovic`s troops, however, suffered a hammer blow soon after as Dias was given his marching orders by the referee following a second bookable offence in the area, but Stranzl could not repeat his previous heroics.
Fortunately for Gladbach, Lorik Cana conceded another penalty, bringing down striker Luuk de Jong, and substitute Thorben Marx made no mistake this time, slamming the ball towards the left-hand corner of the net.
With just two minutes of normal time to be spared, Juan Arango thought he had earned his side the win with a 30-yard screamer of a free kick, which left Federico Marchetti with no chance between the posts.
But it was not to be. Via virtually the last kick of the game, Kozak lived up to his super-sub billing after he met Hernanes` lobbed pass and nicked a third away goal for Lazio to leave the tie finely poised.
BASEL 2-0 DNIPRO
Basel put in an accomplished performance on Thursday to make easy work of their 2-0 success over Europa League last-32 opponents Dnipro.
Inside 23 minutes, Cabral was on hand to find midfielder Valentin Stocker, who turned his marker and coolly poked the ball past Jan Lastuvka.
And on the hour mark, veteran striker Marco Streller jumped highest to send home a glancing header past the former Fulham goalkeeper to leave the Ukrainians with a mountain to climb ahead of the return leg.
STUTTGART 1-1 GENK
Much like their German compatriots Monchengladbach, Stuttgart were also denied by the skin of their teeth after they succumbed to a 1-1 draw with Genk in the first minute of injury-time, to prolong their winless start to 2013.
For a moment it seemed that Bruno Labbadia`s side had overcome their demons when Laszlo Koteles spilled Gotoku Sakai`s strike and Christian Gentner sweeped up the rebound.
But in dramatic, show-stealing fashion, substitute Glynis Plet capitalised fully on a cross which deflected into his path and headed in the leveller, leaving both teams with no choice but to fight it out in Belgium.