FOX Soccer Exclusive
Fulham, PSG control their own destinies
It all comes down to this: the final nine slots in the Europa league are up for grabs Wednesday and Thursday, as matchday six kicks off across the old continent.
Fifteen teams have already qualified from the Europa League and will be joined by the eight third-place finishers from the Champions League. The draw for the round of 32 will be held Friday, in conjunction with the Champions League draw in Nyon, Switzerland.
Wednesday’s big game sees Clint Dempsey and Fulham take on Odense. The simplest way forward is a win for the Cottagers over the already-eliminated Danes. Fulham holds a single point lead and the head-to-head tiebreak on Wisla Krakow. Krakow face group winners Twente in Poland; for them to advance, they have to win and hope that Fulham does not.
In France, Paris Saint-Germain face a do-or-die match against already qualified Athletic Bilbao. Red Bull Salzburg shocked the Parisian giants a fortnight ago, with a big 2-0 win that put the Austrians in the driver’s seat. If they beat ousted Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia, they are ensured a berth in the next round. PSG must win and hope they take more points on the night, as Salzburg holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Jermaine Jones’ Schalke are already through, but face a Maccabi Haifa side that can ensure their progression with a win. Should the Israelis fail to secure three points, either Steaua or AEK Larnaca can go through with a win in their head-to-head clash in Romania.
Oguchi Onyewu’s Sporting have already joined Sasha Kljestan’s Anderlecht. Lazio, Besiktas, Vaslui and Dynamo Kiev can also advance on Wednesday, but need results to break their way and help.
All eyes on me: Gareth Bale's Spurs will need nothing less than a miracle to advance in the Europa League tournament. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
On Thursday, Brad Friedel’s Tottenham need a miracle. Spurs face eliminated Shamrock Rovers to go through and have Rubin Kazan lose to qualified PAOK — and make up a goal difference that stands at five. Stranger things have happened in Europe — ask Lyon — but Rubin can also take the group outright with a win in Greece. What happens if Spurs and Rubin finish dead level on goal difference and goals scored? Tottenham would advance thanks to the baffling system known as the UEFA “coefficient.”
Steve Cherundolo’s Hannover already clinched their berth, and the remaining games in both Group B and C are purely academic. The same is not true for Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar. The Dutch squad sits second and will guarantee progress with a win over qualified Metalist. AZ can get through with a draw as well, as Austria Wien, facing ousted Malmo, need to both win and overcome a six-goal deficit. If the teams finish dead level, the Dutch side will get the nod, thanks to that coefficient business.
Jonathan Spector’s Birmingham have a much tougher road to overcome. They must beat eliminated Maribor at home and hope Brugges falters to qualified Braga. How likely is that? Well, Brugges beat Braga earlier in the group stage, and they know a draw is good enough to give them top of the group.
It’s much more straightforward for Celtic. The Scots must win in Italy at Udinese. No other result can take them through, as Atletico Madrid have already qualified and the Italians have a three-point lead over the Glaswegians.
A quick look at where they stand.
Standard Liege, PSV, Sporting, Athletic, Metalist, Schalke, Twente are through as group winners. PAOK, Hannover, Legia, Stoke, Braga, Atletico Madrid Anderlecht and Lokomotiv are qualified; some of those teams can still win their groups. They are joined from the Champions league by Europa League holders Porto; Manchester City, Manchester United, Trabzonspor, Ajax, Valencia, Plzen and Olympiakos.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.