Sporting Life · Columnist
Wins for Chelsea, Arsenal and Celtic in the Europa League while ten-man Rangers held Villarreal to a goalless draw.
Olivier Giroud scored twice and Callum Hudson-Odoi netted his first goal for Chelsea as the Blues cruised to a 4-0 Europa League victory over 10-man PAOK Salonika at Stamford Bridge.
Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off for the Greek visitors after just seven minutes and Olivier Giroud scored twice before half-time, the second a brilliant volley from a Cesc Fabregas pass.
The 18-year-old Hudson-Odoi scored after 60 minutes before providing a goal for Alvaro Morata, on for Giroud, as the Blues responded from the loss to Tottenham with a fifth win from five European games.
BATE Borisov’s 2-0 win over Hungary’s Vidi – Chelsea’s final opponents on December 13 – in Belarus earlier on Thursday meant the Blues had achieved their goal of first place in Group L prior to kick-off.
Rangers remain in the hunt for the last 32 after Steven Gerrard’s side survived 45 minutes with 10 men to claim what could yet be a crucial point from Villarreal.
A controversial red card for Daniel Candeias just before half-time left Gers up against it.
But for the second time in this campaign, the Light Blues frustrated the Yellow Submarine as they battled to a merited 0-0 draw at Ibrox.
And it leaves their destiny firmly in their own hands – with victory against Rapid Vienna in Austria in two weeks’ time guaranteeing passage to the knock-out rounds.
Arsenal cruised to victory in Kiev to progress as Group E winners by beating Vorskla Poltava 3-0.
The Group E fixture was moved 185 miles east of Poltava on Tuesday to the capital’s Olympic Stadium, with parts of Ukraine under martial law as political tensions continue to rise.
Arsenal needed just 10 minutes to open the scoring as Emile Smith-Rowe converted from inside the area, and it was 2-0 when Aaron Ramsey coolly slotted in from the spot after being brought down inside the area by Igor Perduta, before Gunners academy graduate Joe Willock added a third on the stroke of half-time.
Sporting Lisbon progressed as runners-up behind Arsenal with a 6-1 thumping of Qarabag in Azerbaijan as Bruno Fernandes and Abdoulaye Diaby both scored twice.
Scott Sinclair’s goal three minutes before half-time gave Celtic a crucial 1-0 victory over Rosenborg in Trondheim.
And with RB Leipzig losing by the same scoreline to Group B winners Red Bull Salzburg, it means that Celtic need a point from their final game at home to Salzburg to confirm their qualification.
Italian giants AC Milan survived a major fright against Luxembourg minnows Dudelange at the San Siro, trailing 2-1 midway through the second period against a team that had lost all four of their group games.
But a major upset was averted with four goals in a 15-minute spell as Fabio Borini’s strike sealed a nervy win that leaves AC Milan second in Pool F, one point behind Real Betis, who were 1-0 conquerors of Olympiakos and reached the round of 32 thanks to Sergio Canales’ strike.
Zenit St Petersburg’s 1-0 home win against Pool C rivals FC Copenhagen – Robert Mak scored the only goal after 59 minutes – saw them win their group, but Slavia Prague’s hopes of joining them were dented by a 2-0 defeat in Bordeaux.
There were no goals in either Pool D game, with Fenerbahce qualifying along with group winners Dinamo Zageb following their draw in Istanbul, while Anderlecht and Spartak Trnava also played out a scoreless encounter.
Bayer Levekusen stayed top of Pool A, despite being held 1-1 at home by Ludogrets, as Zurich, who had also qualified with Leverkusen, suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat against already-eliminated visitors AEK Lanarca.
Goals in the last 10 minutes by Mert Mulder and Philipp Schobesberger nudged Rapid Vienna to the top of Group G as they beat Spartak Moscow, and Dinamo Kiev ensured top spot in Pool K as Benjamin Verbic’s first half goal proved enough to take the points against hosts Astana.
Krasnodar, meanwhile, qualified in Group J after beating Akhisar 2-1, and BATE Borisov saw off Vidi 2-0 in Group L.