FC Steaua Bucuresti clinched second spot in UEFA Europa League Group J and a place in the round of 32 thanks to their 3-1 victory against AEK Larnaca FC on Wednesday night and Maccabi Haifa FC’s 3-0 defeat by section winners FC Schalke 04.
Steaua and AEK Larnaca were level on five points prior to kick-off and knew only victory would enable them to capitalise on any slip-up by the Israeli side. After a goalless first half the game sprung into life ten minutes after the break when Raul Rusescu converted from the penalty spot to give Steaua the lead. The visitors swiftly hit back through Gorka Pintado but Steaua sealed their place thanks to Stefan Nikolic’s (photo) double.
Steaua, roared on by a vocal home crowd on National Arena, tested Alexandre Negri from distance early on but it was AEK Larnaca who looked the more dangerous in a quiet first half. The hosts came out firing in the second half and made the breakthrough on 55 minutes when Nikolic was brought down by Ander Murillo; Rusescu sent Negri the wrong way from the spot. However, the Cypriot outfit did not lie down and equalised just six minutes later when Pintado stooped to powerfully head Jason Demetriou’s cross past Tatarusanu.
Steaua will find out its opponents in the last 32 round at the draws to be held on Friday. They could be big teams like FC Porto, Manchester United, Manchester City, PSV Eindhoven, Anderlecht, Valencia. Other possible opponents: Besiktas, Standard Liege, Twente, Metalist Kharkov, Olympiacos.
In another game, FC Vaslui lost their away game against Zurich 0-2 and are now out of the competition.Goals from Xavier Margairaz and Oliver Buff earned Zurich’s first Group D victory and sent Vaslui crashing out of the UEFA Europa League.
Aware that S.S. Lazio were winning in Group D’s other match, the pressure was on the visitors to get the three points they needed to advance at the Italian side’s expense. It proved beyond them, with Zurich biding their time before twice striking on the counterattacking in the final quarter.
In Istanbul, meanwhile, Besiktas JK triumphed 3-1 against Stoke City FC, who had Matthew Upson dismissed, to win Group E ahead of the visitors. Nine-man FC Dynamo Kyiv and Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC finished off the pace in third and fourth respectively after drawing 3-3.
In Group L, RSC Anderlecht and FC Lokomotiv Moscow were already guaranteed qualifiers, the Belgian side securing first place – and maintaining the group stage’s only perfect record – courtesy of a 5-3 victory against their Russian visitors.