This is not to say that we’re doing a complete Europa League edition but all we’ll say before continuing is that if you’re hoping for some Greek league action then you’re going to be truly disappointing. We were going to briefly mention the friendly between Ecuador and Honduras (3-1 Ecuador for the die hards that care) until it was pointed out that this game would have kicked off technically on Wednesday night. Timezones are definitely going to be something we’re gonna have to become more acquainted with as this column goes forth. After all that, Europa League here we come.
As far as the lazy eye goes, our first eye popping result goes to APOEL Nicosia. We’ve all heard of Athletic Bilbao. They’re foreign but they’re just good enough to scrape into the category of “I remember when they beat Manchester United ergo I know everything about their history.” But a Cypriot team? As far as the mainstream football media are concerned they may as well be from Mars. Joking aside, seeing out the last twenty minutes with just ten men is quite impressive and their back line deserve all the credit in the world. We fully await seeing them up close and personal when they get drawn to Manchester United in the next round. True validation.
All the domestic headlines will be dominated by the elimination of Spurs and the implications of it all. This is the second Europa League exit in a row which will really rankle with the fans, although last years throwing in the towel against Dortmund before a ball was kicked was much more easily explained. We’re just going to leave this meme right here.
Rattling through some of the others of note now. Anderlecht left it late to get past Zenit St Petersburg, scraping through by virtue of a 90th minute Frank Acheampong goal. Lyon meanwhile had it all their own way, winning 7-1 on the night against AZ Alkmaar and a whopping 11-2 on aggregate. Not sure what the French for “Can we play you every week” is but we’re going to assume it made an appearance here. Olympiakos won 3-0 in Turkey, which sounds impressive until you see that their opponents Osmanlispor have lost five out of their last six at home in all competitions. They still had a better night than Fiorentina mind.
On the back of a 1-0 away victory in Germany, it wasn’t exactly nailed on for La Viola but it would take one hell of an effort from Mönchengladbach to even rattle the Italians. An even tie looked incredibly one sided by half time then, as Fiorentina went into a two goal lead before the half hour mark. A Lars Stindl penalty before half time seemed nothing more than a footnote. What happened in that second half is something Florence will not be able to forget for quite some time. Stindl completed his hat trick within ten minutes of the restart before Andreas Christensen added the ultimate insult with a fourth that saw Gladbach to win the tie on aggregate. On any other night, Stindl walk this award. But he already has one in the bag. The first two time winner won’t ever do more to have deserved it than he did tonight however.
When trying to justify the unjustifiable, we’ll basically take anything. Tonight that anything came in the form of the very last Europa League game to be decided. Unlike Osmanlispor, Shakhtar Donetsk are quite the force at home. The last time they were defeated in normal time was way back in May of last year. In Europe, the last side to defeat them was Real Madrid. But technically they’re not even playing at home. Kharkiv was the setting for the most unusual of turnarounds at the hands of Celta Vigo and the magician that is Iago Aspas. Quite possibly the ultimate example of you should never judge a player by their limited Premier League experience, it was he who dispatched the last minute penalty that kept Celta alive and ultimately sent their way onto an unlikely victory. He can take all the set pieces he wants. So long as they’re not corners.