Five more teams advance in Europa League

BY foxsports • December 16, 2009

Hertha Berlin, Fulham, Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen and FC Brugge all won through to the next round of the Europa League on Wednesday.

Hertha overcame its dismal form in the German Bundesliga to beat Sporting Lisbon 1-0 and advance alongside the already-qualified Portuguese side, while Fulham won 3-2 at FC Basel to edge the Swiss team to the runner-up spot in Group E.

Djibril Cisse hit two of Panathinaikos' three second-half goals in a 3-0 win over Dinamo Bucharest, Copenhagen won 3-0 at Sparta Prague and Ivan Perisic scored in injury time to give FC Brugge a 1-0 win over Toulouse.

With half the tournament's first-round groups completed, 28 spots in Friday's draw for the next round have been filled. The remaining four spots will be filled when the final matches in the remaining six groups are played Thursday.

Serbia midfielder Gojko Kacar ensured Hertha Berlin's progress with a 70th-minute goal that gave the home team its first victory at the Olympic stadium in 130 days.

"It wasn't easy to muster patience against a strong team like Sporting," Hertha coach Friedhelm Funkel said.

Neither side created many scoring chances in a lackluster match played in front of a meager crowd of less than 15,000.

But the win should boost the Hertha players' confidence after a dreadful start to the season that has left it stranded at the bottom of the Bundesliga.

The team hasn't won in the domestic league since the first match of the season and has only six points from 16 games. It faces a difficult game at Bayern Munich on Saturday in its last match before the winter break.

Funkel is looking forward to the next round rather than worrying about the extra games that qualification will bring in 2010.

"That absolutely is not a disadvantage for the Bundesliga, quite the contrary," Funkel said. "Any extra income is, of course, worth its weight in gold."

Hertha's win meant it finished second to Sporting in Group D despite Heerenveen's 5-0 win over Ventspils.

Heerenveen scored five second half goals, including two by substitute Gerald Sibon in as many minutes, but the Dutch side finished two points back in third place.

Former Switzerland coach Roy Hodgson made a successful return to his former home with Fulham, securing the victory that lifted the west London side above Basel and behind AS Roma - which won 3-0 at CSKA Sofia.

Basel needed only a draw to advance from Group E but trailed 2-0 after Bobby Zamora scored twice in the last three minutes of the first half.

Alex Frei cut the English side's lead with a 64th-minute penalty, but Fulham exploited the space left as the home team threw men into attack at snowy St. Jakob Park. Zoltan Gera was left in space near the penalty spot to place a 77th-minute shot into the bottom corner.

Basel cut the margin of victory with Marco Streller's late header.

"I walked around Basel today and I was stopped by fans saying how much they were enjoying the adventure," Hodgson said. "I am looking forward to the next round, the draw to see who we get and then we see how far we can go.

"I wouldn't mind playing Juventus. We have done more than we set out to do."

Juventus is one of three former European champions among the eight clubs to drop into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League groups.

Ajax, Hamburg, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Red Bull Salzburg, Villarreal, Fenerbahce, Benfica and Everton have already clinched their places in the round of 32 ahead of Thursday's final matches.

Panathinaikos needed only to avoid defeat to join Galatasaray in advancing from Group F but got all three points to finish just one behind the Turkish team, which lost 1-0 at Sturm Graz.

Brugge needed only to draw against Toulouse to advance but got the victory to finish with 11 points in Group J, two fewer than Shakhtar Donetsk. Donetsk, which won the UEFA Cup last season before it was revamped as the Europa League, lost 1-0 at Partizan Belgrade.

Dame N'Doye scored two first-half goals for Copenhagen and won the 55th-minute penalty that Jesper Gronkjaer struck to complete victory. Copenhagen has 10 points in Group K, four fewer than PSV Eindhoven and three more than Sparta.

PSV won 3-0 at CFR Cluj.

Werder cruised to a 3-0 win at Athletic Bilbao in a Group L match between two teams already through to the next round, with Nacional crushing Austria Vienna 5-1 in the other game.

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