Chelsea scrape past Sparta but Liverpool heroics in vain
Blues and Spurs through after last-gasp equalisers, Reds fail to pull off miracle and Newcastle progress
Chelsea claimed a place in the last 16 of the Europa League last night with a dramatic 93rd-minute equaliser from Eden Hazard after Rafa Benitez's team had trailed 1-0 to Sparta Prague for most of the night with pressure mounting again on the club's interim manager.
The 1-1 scoreline put Chelsea through 2-1 on aggregate to meet Steaua Bucharest in the next round on a mixed night for English clubs. Benitez was forced to defend another unconvincing show from Fernando Torres who has just one goal in his last 14 games. "He was in the right place at the right time. Are we disappointed he didn't score? Yes. But he was still giving his all to the team," Benitez said. "We had 22 attempts, 60 per cent of possession. We did enough to deserve to go through."
Liverpool were knocked out despite a spirited comeback against the Russian club Zenit. Brendan Rodgers' side trailed 2-0 from the first leg, then conceded first at Anfield, leaving them needing four goals to qualify. They managed three, two from Luis Suarez free-kicks, but failed to get over the line.
"To have to come back from a three-goal deficit was a phenomenal show," Rodgers said. "The players couldn't have done any more and the crowd couldn't. It was breathtaking. We just missed out but hopefully in the future there will be many more great nights."
Like Chelsea, Spurs left it late, with Mousa Dembélé scoring in the 90th minute to seal a 1-1 draw in Lyons and a 3-2 aggregate win. Up to that point the visitors had been going out. They have set up a tantalising tie against Inter, who they beat over two legs in thrilling style in the Champions League three years ago. "Spurs had two great games in 2010 and we want to recreate special nights that everyone remembers," Spurs manager, Andre Villas-Boas, said.
Newcastle qualified after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Metalist Kharkiv of the Ukraine. Shola Ameobi scored the only goal from the penalty spot.
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