Anderlecht – Athletic Bilbao
Belgian outfit Anderlecht successfully tamed Athletic Bilbao at San Mames last Thursday, holding los Leones to a 1-1 draw, giving the Brussels side real hope that the Primera Division unit can finally be eliminated.
Lucas Biglia scored a rare goal to give les Mauves et Blancs a precious away strike, an effort that means the Spaniards must find the net at least once at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.
The Basque outfit bounced back from their midweek setback in terrific style, notching a 4-1 success over lowly Tenerife at home on Sunday, and they will need to capture such excellent scoring form once more if they are to really push their hosts from the outset.
Anderlecht suffered no prolonged hangover either, claiming a 2-0 home victory over Mechelen to tighten their grip on the domestic crown further, doubtless increasing confidence ahead of Thursday’s big match.
Olympique de Marseille – Copenhagen
Didier Deschamps’ Olympique de Marseille side will feel that most of the hard work has already been done in their tie against Copenhagen, though they will not publicly admit to such confidence.
Les Phoceens strode to a 3-1 victory in the Danish capital last Thursday, though the full-time result served to flatter the visiting outfit. For long period of the game Copenhagen refused to be breached, creating the clearer openings before Mamadou Niang headed home. Jesper Gronkjaer briefly got the hosts back on terms, but an audacious goal from Hatem Ben Arfa and a cool finish from Charles Kabore confirmed pre-match suspicions that a lack of competitive action would hurt the Danes.
Needing three goals to progress at Stade Velodrome, the task seems immense for Stale Solbakken’s side. OM go into this game with great confidence, having powered past Nancy 3-1 at the weekend courtesy of a Niang hat-trick. The French side meet PSG in one of French football’s great grudge matches on Sunday, so Deschamps may well tinker with his starting unit, giving the guests just a glimmer of hope.
Roma – Panathinaikos
Greek outfit Panathinaikos gave Roma quite a shock in the first leg of their Europa Leaguelast 32 encounter, registering a somewhat unexpected 3-2 success against the Giallorossi, who are going so well in Serie A at present.
Claudio Ranieri’s side are 15 domestic league games unbeaten, so overturning a rather narrow deficit should be of little concern to the Lupi, who struck last week through Mirko Vucinic and David Pizarro. A 1-0 victory over Catania last weekend, with Vucinic again on the scoresheet, will have helped tend to their wounds, especially as leaders Inter made a rare faux pas.
Pana, meanwhile, are also up at the forefront of their domestic league, fired by the goals of the mercurial Djibril Cisse, whose form has merited the coaching staff of the French national side taking a close look at him. He would have impressed as he grabbed the decisive goal late on against the Italians last weekend, and he scored yet again in the Greek Super League at the weekend, though Pana slipped to a 2-1 loss against PAOK.
PSV – Hamburg
Eredivisie outfit PSV, who are unbeaten in their domestic league this season, lived up to their robust tag last week against Hamburg, though they were not quite good enough to hold out for a draw against their German neighbours, going down 1-0 in a fiery encounter and leaving themselves much to do come Thursday.
Mario Been’s side have been in magnificent form over the course of the last six months and will be brimming with confidence that they can make this match take a dramatic u-turn. A clean sheet will be absolutely vital to the Dutch if they are to progress, though they have proven to be well capable of scoring goals this season, finding the net 53 times in just 24 league matches.
HSV are no strangers to finding the net themselves and will boast one notable PSV alumnus in their ranks. Ruud van Nistelrooy, the former favourite of the Philips Stadion crowd, will likely capture the headlines if he overcomes injury to play, though Netherlands international Eljero Elia will also have to be closely marshalled by the home defence, who know that one ill-timed slip could well equal virtual elimination.
Werder Bremen – Twente
Commanding a 1-0 lead over Werder Bremen going to Germany in the second leg of theirEuropa League meeting, Dutch high-fliers Twente will possess quiet confidence that they can progress to the last 16 of Europe’s silver medal continental competition.
Theo Janssen produced the only telling moment of last Thursday’s match in favour of the Tukkers, who know that scoring a vital away goal will make life very difficult for their hosts. A banana skin against Willem II was negotiated with a 1-0 victory on Sunday, providing the Dutch with an excellent platform from which to approach this game.
Werder can have no such championship aspirations in the Bundesliga, scrapping around for a spot in next season’s Europa League instead. If they are to claim any glory this season, it will have to come in Europe, though they are not well placed after losing last week. Thomas Schaaf’s side will have been boosted by a commendable 2-2 draw with league leaders Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday.
Salzburg – Standard Liege
Salzburg and Standard Liege served up one of the most entertaining first leg matches last weekend, with the Belgians getting the better of a five-goal affair. Thursday’s return leg promises to be equally as enthralling given the tightrope that this encounter is delicately balanced upon.
Marc Janko is well known as the Austrians’ scoring ace. His prolific form of last season, during which he scored 39 goals in 34 domestic league games, has continued into this campaign, though not at quite such a formidable rate. The 26-year-old’s brace last week seemed to have given Red Bull a valuable advantage, maintaining their electric form from the group stage, but they would be shocked by a late surge from the Belgians.
In a game that contained no less than 33 shots on target, Axel Witsel scored a brace of goals that sandwiched a strike from Igor De Camargo, who helped turn the first leg around in the course of 14 stunning minutes.
Neutrals can only hope for more of the same; fans of either side will simply be praying for less nerve-shredding tension and for their team to advance.
Hapoel Tel Aviv – Rubin Kazan
Two-time Russian champions Rubin Kazan are very well positioned indeed to eliminate Israeli outfit Hapoel Tel Aviv, carrying a massive 3-0 advantage to the Middle East on Thursday night.
The Tatarstan side showed no hints of rustiness after a long close season, ignoring the cold to claim an easy win in freezing conditions courtesy of goals from Aleksandr Bukharov, who scored a first half brace, and Sergei Semak, who added a third midway through the second half. Rubin are currently remoulding their side, but even their existing unit looks a formidable force.
Hapoel must simply aim to avoid embarrassment in this tie. Eli Guttman’s outfit claimed a morale boosting 4-2 victory away against city rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv at the weekend and will at least want to restore some pride after being humbled in Russia.
Fenerbahce – Lille
Rudi Garcia’s Lille side have been praised for their attacking flair this season but may live to regret the chances they missed against Fenerbahce in the first leg of this encounter in France, despite their 2-1 advantage.
The Turkish side fell behind early in the game after Florent Balmont shot les Dogues ahead, though Vederson quickly levelled proceedings with a spectacular strike. Chances came and went for LOSC, with only Pierre-Alain Frau proving decisive. With Mathieu Debuchy out and top scorer Gervinho nursing a knee problem, the French side are somewhat depleted travelling to Istanbul.
Fener will not prove to be accommodating hosts. However, Christoph Daum’s side are not in especially impressive form. At the weekend they lost at home in Super Lig action for only the second time this season, going down 3-2 to Bursaspor and are winless in four matches overall. The Sarı Kanaryalar certainly have it within themselves to eliminate one of France’s most exciting teams though. (GC/MG/rex)