Final nine Europa League berths set to be filled

BY foxsports • December 15, 2009

Hertha Berlin is desperate to boost its troubled season by securing one of the final nine spots in the next round of the Europa League this week.

Berlin is six points adrift at the bottom of the Bundesliga standings and seven short of safety after 15 winless matches in the German league.

But coach Friedhelm Funkel's team salvaged a last-minute 2-2 draw on Friday against Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen and could get another useful boost to morale when it hosts Sporting Lisbon in one of 24 games in this week's final round of group matches.

Hertha needs only to avoid defeat against the already qualified Group D leaders to advance to the next round ahead of Heerenveen, which hosts Ventspils.

But Sporting Lisbon wants a victory to ease pressure at home. The Lions have managed just four victories in 13 games for its worst start to a Portuguese championship campaign in 42 years.

Ajax, Hamburg, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Sporting, AS Roma, Galatasaray, Red Bull Salzburg, Villarreal, Fenerbahce, Benfica, Everton, Shakhtar Donetsk, PSV Eindhoven, Werder Bremen and Athletic Bilbao have already clinched their places in the round of 32.

Sparta Prague and FC Copenhagen go head to head in another of Wednesday's matches to decide which of them will advance from Group K alongside PSV.

Sparta will miss central defender Tomas Repka through suspension and playmaker Patrik Berger is out because of a long-term knee injury, but another central defender, Roman Hubnik, has recovered from an instep injury and should be available.

"We were a group outsider at the beginning," Sparta coach Josef Chovanec said. "Now, we're fighting to advance. It's still open. It has to be clear from the start that we want a win."

Two former Sparta players, defender Zdenek Pospech and attacking midfielder Libor Sionko, both Czech internationals, play for Copenhagen now.

"It's good to play in the Czech Republic but not a decisive match," Pospech said.

Fulham needs to win at FC Basel to move ahead of the Swiss side and qualify from Group E with Roma, while Panathathinaikos and Dinamo Bucharest meet in Greece to decide which of them finishes runner-up to Group F winner Galatasaray.

With Group L already settled in favor of Werder Bremen and Athletic Bilbao, that leaves Brugge and Toulouse going head to head in Belgium to see which advances behind Shakhtar in Group J.

The Ukrainian club, which won the UEFA Cup last season before it was revamped as the Europa League, is at Partizan Belgrade. The Serbian club has been eliminated without a point.

There are another 12 games Thursday, although the teams qualifying from Groups C, G and I have already been decided.

Dutch league leader FC Twente has to win at Steaua Bucharest to qualify ahead of unheralded Moldovan side Sherriff in second place from Group H. The two teams drew 0-0 when they met in Enschede.

Coach Steve McClaren's team staged a second-half comeback Saturday to maintain its unbeaten start to the league season with a 3-1 win over NAC Breda.

"We can't allow ourselves to play crazy matches like this," McClaren said. "We're happy with the three points, but know we have to do better."

Sherriff needs to better Twente's result when it plays Fenerbahce.

Ajax has a virtually full-strength squad as it goes for the point against Anderlecht it needs to win Group A, with only midfielder Gabri and defender Thimothee Atouba out.

Ajax beat NEC Nijmegen 3-0 in the Dutch league on Friday night to stay in third place and take its goal tally to a league-high 53 for the season - 10 more than Twente.

Anderlecht needs a point to guarantee second place ahead of Dinamo Zagreb, which hosts Timisoara.

Group B remains wide open, with Valencia, Lille and Genoa all vying for a place in the next round.

Only Slavia Prague with three points is eliminated. Lille on seven points shares the second place with Genoa, while Valencia leads with nine points.

"Unfortunately, we've got nothing to lose," Slavia defender Matej Krajcik said. "We can be relaxed and enjoy the match. Our opponent needs a win, it will be much tougher for them.

Former European champions Juventus, Liverpool and Marseille are among the eight clubs to drop into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League groups.

Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid, Rubin Kazan, Unirea Urziceni and Standard Liege are the other Champions League sides in Friday's draw in Nyon, Switzerland.


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