VERONA ITALY - FEBRUARY 02: Paolo Cannavaro of Napoli in action during the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and SSC Napoli at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on February 2 2011 in Verona Italy. (Photo by Roberto Serra/Getty Images)

UEFA Europa League: Liverpool Advance Off Late Dirk Kuyt Goal, Villarreal Advance Past Napoli

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Villarreal Vs. Napoli: 2-1 Full Time, The Yellow Submarine Progresses

Napoli fought hard, but ultimately, due to some good play by Villarreal and a couple of bad breaks, they were unable to progress to the Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League as the Yellow Submarine go through with a 2-1 win at home and on aggregate. Marek Hamsik opened the scoring for Napoli to put Villarreal in a massive hole, but they promptly dug themselves out with late first half goals from Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi.

Napoli's Edinson Cavani did not start the match, but he was brought on in the second half in an attempt to try to bring Napoli back into the tie. He played well and hit the post with one of his shots, but ultimately could not find the goal that Napoli needed to win the tie. The Azzurri hit the woodwork on multiple occasions, and on another day, they very well could have scored the goal they needed to advance.

Villarreal advance to face Bayer Leverkusen in the next round, who easily dispatched of FC Metalist Kharkiv.


Villarreal Vs. Napoli: 2-1 Halftime, Giuseppe Rossi Scores In First Half Stoppage Time

The UEFA Europa League tie between Villarreal and Napoli has changed rapidly over the last 45 minutes, with Napoli taking a massive lead before Villarreal reeled them right back in. It's been an exciting half filled with some good football, and the second half looks like it should be just as good.

Napoli and Villarreal drew 0-0 in the first leg in Naples, so it appeared that Napoli had opened up a large advantage when Marek Hamsik scored 18 minutes into the game at El Madrigal. Heading home an Ezequiel Lavezzi cross, Hamsik netted a goal that was as good as 1 1/2 with Villarreal failing to notch an away goal of their own.

The Yellow Submarine would need two goals to have a chance to advance, and they did just that. Nilmar scored their first goal in the 41st minute off of a great through ball from Borja Valero, which was followed by a Giuseppe Rossi goal in stoppage time. His close range shot took a deflection off of a defender and bounced into the back of the net, giving Morgan De Sanctis no chance to make a save.

Extra time is not an option tonight, and as it stands, Villarreal are going through. With an away goal, Napoli only need to force a draw to advance at this point.


Villarreal Vs. Napoli: Nilmar Goal Brings Yellow Submarine Back Into The Tie

Villarreal have work left to do to get back into their UEFA Champions League tie against Napoli, but they certainly have a much better chance to advance now thanks to a goal from Nilmar close to the end of the second half. The match is now drawn 1-1 on the day and on aggregate, meaning Napoli are ahead on away goals.

Borja Valero assisted on the goal, and it was a fantastic assist. From the top of the penalty area, he hit a low ball for Nilmar to run on to towards the right post. Nilmar used his great speed to barely get onto the ball, despite very good defending. He took his shot first time and slotted it into the back of the net with a low shot to the far post, beating Morgan De Sanctis. Napoli hardly did anything wrong during the sequence, and instead the goal was the result of a fantastic combination between Valero and Nilmar.


Villarreal Vs. Napoli: Azzurri Lead Through Marek Hamsik Header

Napoli were underdogs in their UEFA Europa League tie against Villarreal after a 0-0 draw at home, but a vital away goal has given them a massive advantage, just 18 minutes into the second leg at El Madrigal. They're playing without Edinson Cavani, but the Azzurri still have two of their preferred front three of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, and those two players combined for the goal.

Napoli's attackers are hard to contain when they're on their game because of their versatility, which Lavezzi and Hamsik showed off. Lavezzi tallied the assist, putting a low cross across the face of goal. Hamsik lost his marker and went down to get his head to the ball, nodding it into the back of the net to give Napoli a massive lead. Extra time is no longer a possibility, and Villarreal need to score twice to have a shot to advance.

As a sad side note, Napoli away supporters rushed toward the sideline to celebrate with the players after the goal, causing a barrier to break. A number of supporters poured onto the field, and at least one of those supporters appeared to be seriously injured.


Liverpool Vs. Sparta Prague: 1-0 Full Time, Reds Advance 1-0 On Aggregate

It wasn't the prettiest 180 minutes of football that Liverpool has produced since Kenny Dalglish took charge at Anfield, but a win is a win. After two legs, the Reds have emerged victorious over Sparta Prague and will advance to the Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League to take on the winner of the tie between Lech Poznan and Sporting Braga, the second leg of which kicks off at 3 pm ET on Thursday.

Dirk Kuyt's goal in the 86th minute of the second leg was the only one in a tie that lacked quality. The standard of play in the first leg in Prague was exceptionally poor, and while the second leg at Anfield was considerably more open and exciting, it still lacked the serious quality that Liverpool matches have possessed in years passed. Raul Meireles's corner kick and Kuyt's header were very well executed, though, and Liverpool probably deserve to progress to the next round.


Liverpool Vs. Sparta Prague: Reds Take The Lead Through Dirk Kuyt Goal

Though it looked like neither team would ever score, Liverpool has finally gone ahead in their UEFA Europa League tie with Sparta Prague in the 86th minute through a set piece header from Dirk Kuyt. Liverpool had looked like the better of the two sides throughout the second half and the much more likely to score a goal, but it still looked like that goal was never going to come. Finally, after 176 minutes of football, the deadlock has been broken and there will be no extra time.

Raul Meireles was the man who delivered the corner, and his ball in was a great one. Dirk Kuyt has been working hard all game in typical Kuyt fashion, and his headed goal was well deserved. The result, if it holds, will be incredibly harsh on a Sparta team that were better than Liverpool for much of the first half, but the Anfield faithful shouldn't mind too much.


Liverpool Vs. Sparta Prague: Jamie Carragher On For Martin Kelly, Bonus Football Looms

Just in case you were worried that the UEFA Europa League tie between Liverpool and Sparta Prague wasn't going to end scoreless, Kenny Dalglish has your back. Apparently, Martin Kelly picked up a minor knock in the first half, leading him to be replaced by Jamie Carragher. Liverpool are now playing with four true central defenders along their back line in addition to two defensive midfielders, along with Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles, who are both good two way players. The last time a football match saw a team so unambitious was Stoke's first year in the Premier League.

I would like to remind the world: This is Liverpool playing Sparta Prague. Liverpool are not Stoke, and Sparta Prague, while decent, are not world beaters. Although, in King Kenny's defense, neither Steven Gerrard or Andy Carroll are dressed for this match because of fitness issues, and Luis Suarez is cup tied. 

However, he does have Maxi Rodriguez, Milan Jovanovic, and Dani Pacheco on the bench. And he's bringing on Jay Spearing. Sigh.


Sporting Lisbon Vs. Rangers: Pedro Mendes Puts Sporting Level, 1-1

Rangers may have held the majority of the possession in the first half, but it seemed that if an equalizer from Sporting Lisbon was going to come, it would be off the back of a defensive error by the visitors. Sure enough, such an error led to the goal by Pedro Mendes in the 42nd minute. David Weir failed to make an adequate clearance, letting the ball fall to Helder Postiga.The striker sent the ball back to Mendes, who sent in a beautiful shot from 20 yards out, the ball settling into the bottom right corner. 

It's now halftime at the Estádio José Alvalade, and should the score remain unchanged, we're looking at extra time and then a stressful penalty shootout. But with the defense of both teams being prone to mistakes, the likelihood of a 1-1 finish after regulation time seems quite slim. With advancement in Europa on the line, both teams will give everything in attack, likely stretching their defenses even further.


Liverpool Vs. Sparta Prague: 0-0 Halftime, More Entertaining But The Same Result As Leg 1

Liverpool and Sparta Prague have been more ambitious and entertaining in this second leg of their UEFA Champions League tie than they were in the first leg, but thus far, the results are exactly the same. After 135 minutes of play, the two sides are locked up at 0-0. 

Both sides' central defenders are not playing well at all, but despite that, no one from either team can finish their chances. The wide players from both teams are playing well and the central midfielders look decent in possession and in the tackle, but no one seems to be very good at defending or finishing.

In most cases, I would predict that the play of the game meant that goals were coming in the second half, but after seeing what these teams have done in the first 135 minutes, bonus football seems likely.


Sporting Lisbon Vs. Rangers: El-Hadji Diouf Scores Crucial Away Goal To Give Rangers Lead

El-Hadji Diouf has scored his first goal in a Rangers kit (or at least, a stolen Atlético Madrid shirt) and what a perfect time to do it. Rangers and Sporting Lisbon came into this match all even at 1-1, although with Sporting clearly holding that crucial away goal. Then Steven Davis sent in a cross from the right side, given plenty of space from the Sporting defense. Diouf easily headed the ball past keeper Patrico, and from the noise being made at the Estádio José Alvalade, you'd think the entire city of Glasgow had made the trip to Portugal.

With Rangers now leading 1-0, they've taken control of the match. The visitors are up 2-1 on aggregate and finding another goal would require the home side to score three, an exceedingly difficult position. Yet just one goal from Sporting puts them right back into the game -- not inconceivable from a Rangers defense that has already seen a few shaky moments.


Liverpool FC Vs. Sparta Prague: Visitors Surprisingly Ambitious, No Smoke Bombs Thrown

Sparta Prague seem to recognize the potential importance of them securing an away goal in their UEFA Champions League tie against Liverpool, and they've looked the more ambitious and lively of the two sides early on at Anfield. Still, Liverpool are getting some chances just by virtue of the fact that they have some serious quality in their team. Oh, and no smoke bombs have been thrown onto the pitch yet, which is a massive improvement from the first leg.

In the 21st minute, Pepe Reina completely whiffed on his attempt to snag a corner kick, giving Sparta a great chance that they couldn't convert. Less than a minute later, Raul Meireles managed a spectacular miss, putting a great opportunity over the bar from close range from a low cross by Martin Kelly. There have been some good opportunities at both ends besides those two, so it seems unlikely that the score will stay 0-0 for long. It's been considerably more lively than the first leg in Prague.


Zenit St. Petersburg Vs. Young Boys BSC: 3-1 Full Time, Zenit Win 4-3 On Aggregate

They didn't make it easy on themselves, giving up a stoppage time goal in Bern and allowing Young Boys to score the opener at Petrovsky, but Zenit St. Petersburg are through to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League after three unanswered goals and a 4-3 aggregate victory over Young Boys BSC.

Ammar Jemal scored the opener for Young Boys off of a corner kick, thanks to some very poor marking by Zenit. The hosts appeared to be in some serious trouble at that point, needing two goals just to push the tie to extra time, but they looked aggressive and dangerous before the Young Boys goal and it didn't seem like two goals would be an impossible task.

In the end, it wasn't, and they added a third for good measure to avoid extra time and win after 180 minutes. Danko Lazovic scored Zenit's first goal, thanks to a great assist by Roman Shirokov, just four minutes before the halftime whistle. On the 52nd minute, after a great start to the second half, Sergei Semak equalized the tie on aggregate. It looked like we were destined for bonus football for quite some time, but Shirokov made himself the hero with the winning goal in addition to his assist, scored from close range in the 76th minute, thanks to some poor defending.

Young Boys had opportunities to win the tie at the end, including one shot off the post and another brilliantly saved by Viacheslav Malafeev, but they could not find the goal they needed. The tie finished 4-3 on aggregate after 180 minutes, and Young Boys will be heading back to Bern disappointed. Zenit advance to the next round, and will face the winner of the tie between Rubin Kazan and FC Twente.


Zenit St. Petersburg Vs. Young Boys BSC: Roman Shirokov Scores Thanks To Poor Defending

There will be no bonus football tonight at the Petrovsky, as Zenit St. Petersburg have scored a goal to take a 4-3 lead on aggregate. If Young Boys equalize at this point, they will win the tie, so this tie will be settled after 180 minutes. Young Boys won 2-1 at home and got off to a 1-0 lead at the Petrovsky, but Zenit have now scored three unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead, despite the absence of top goal scorer Alexander Kerzhakov.

Roman Shirokov was the man who scored the goal, mostly thanks to some very poor defending from Young Boys. In the 76th minute, Aleksander Lukovic floated a cross towards Shirokov, which sailed over the head of his marker. The wide open midfielder had plenty of time to chest the ball down, then steady himself for a shot with his right foot. Despite being just five yards from the goal, Shirokov was completely uncontested and easily slotted the ball into the back of the net to give his side the advantage.


Zenit St. Petersburg Vs. Young Boys BSC: Sergei Semak Goal Levels Tie On Aggregate

After a great start for Young Boys BSC at the Petrovsky, Zenit St. Petersburg have now scored two unanswered goals to level the match both on aggregate and away goals, setting up some potential bonus football. However, Zenit have been aggressive all match and it would not be surprising to see another goal from either side to keep this a 180 minute affair. At 3-3 on aggregate with some unorthodox tactics, this has been one of the best knockout stage ties in either of Europe's competitions so far.

The goal was scored in the 52nd minute by Sergei Semak, putting his team on deserved level terms after an aggressive start to the second half. Igor Denisov assisted the goal with a low cross from the left flank, finished off by Semak with a good left-footed effort from 12 yards out. Zenit are unlikely to be satisfied with being level and should continue to attack, but unfortunately for them, they have no strikers to bring off their bench.


Zenit St. Petersburg Vs. Young Boys BSC: Daniel Lazovic Equalizes On The Day

Zenit St. Petersburg are now on level terms with Young Boys BSC on the day, but they still have a lot of work left to do to advance to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Their goal at the end of the second half has the score on the day at Petrovsky at 1-1, but Zenit still trail 2-3 on aggregate. Both teams have an away goal, so if Zenit were to score one more time without letting Young Boys score, the match will be headed to extra time.

Zenit have been pushing for a goal all game, with a couple of great blocks and bad misses coming in the first half, but Danko Lazovic, in as a "striker," but really more like a false nine for Alexander Kerzhakov, is the man who scored in the 41st minute to bring the hosts back into the game. Roman Shirokov provided a great a through ball on the goal, playing Lazovic into the center of the penalty area, where he finished past Marco Wolfli.


Zenit St. Petersburg Vs. Young Boys BSC: Visitors Take Huge Away Goal Off Corner Kick

After 21 minutes of fairly even play at the Petrovsky stadium, Young Boys BSC have scored and now have a huge 3-1 lead on aggregate with an away goal, matching the goal that Zenit got in Bern. The hosts now need to score twice while preventing Young Boys from scoring again to push the game to extra time. Interestingly, Zenit scored the first goal in Bern before Young Boys scored two to make the tie interesting, so Zenit can hardly be counted out. However, they are without their top striker Alexander Kerzhakov, which will make scoring a much more difficult prospect.

Young Boys' goal came in the 21st minute off of a corner kick, and they were practically gifted the goal by very poor defending. Mario Raimondi was the man who sent in the corner kick, an in-swinger from the right side to the near post, and his ball somehow got through a sea of players and into the center of the box. There, defender Ammar Jemal was waiting completely unmarked, and his slight touch with his head was all the ball needed to find the back of the net, past Viacheslav Malafeev to give Young Boys a 1-0 lead on the day and a 3-1 lead on aggregate.


Zenit St. Petersburg Vs. Young Boys BSC: An Exercise In Why Football Is Awesome

Personally, I got into football as a young teenager because of the global nature of the game. The fact that it's played at all different levels all over the world means that football is different all over the world. I love the NFL, but there's only one high level American football league in the world. Today, the UEFA Europa League match between Zenit St. Petersburg and Young Boys BSC of Bern demonstrates exactly why I got into this sport in the first place.

Basically, what's going on looks absolutely nothing like anything you'll ever see in the English Premier League, La Liga, or Serie A. Zenit are playing a 4-6-0 formation, thanks to a late injury picked up by star striker Alexander Kerzhakov. Young Boys are sporting a 3-4-3 formation and are attacking like there is no tomorrow, despite the fact that they won the home leg of this tie. Additionally, it's a balmy 20 degrees Fahrenheit at the Petrovsky stadium, where the pitch is essentially rock hard dirt painted green. The lines on the pitch are red, because white lines would make no sense at a field where it snows all the time.

I'm enjoying this more than I enjoy Barcelona or Chelsea games.


UEFA Europa League: Liverpool Host Sparta Prague, Villarreal Host Napoli In Second Legs

The UEFA Europa League is shaping up to be a very intriguing tournament, with potential tactical battles and individual star performances looking almost as fun and interesting as its big sister, the UEFA Champions League. CSKA Moscow and FC Porto have already advanced, and will face each other in the Round of 16. This Thursday features a number of close ties that didn't come close to getting settled in the first leg.

Zenit St. Petersburg and Young Boys BSC of Bern kick off Thursday's action at 11 am ET. Young Boys won 2-1 at home, giving them a good chance of advancing after the away leg. However, Zenit have the always valuable away goal and will advance with that tiebreaker if they win 1-0.

Liverpool are in action against Sparta Prague at 1 pm ET, fresh off their dire 0-0 draw in Prague last week that prompted fans throwing smoke bombs on the pitch to protest the standard of play. That draw gives Liverpool every chance to advance, but after the first leg, it wouldn't shock anyone to see another 0-0 and penalty kicks.

Manchester City also drew their first leg 0-0 on the road, and today host Aris Salonkia at Eastlands. City played a full strength lineup last week due to a weekend clash with Notts County, but with an English Premier League match facing them on Sunday, it seems more likely that we'll see a mix of first choice players and bench players today. That match kicks off at 3 pm ET.

The headliner of the evening is another 3 pm ET kickoff, this one between Villarreal and Napoli. Unfortunately for the neutrals, it looks Edinson Cavani will be sitting this one out, hat tip to Football Italia. Could they be chasing the Scudetto, with AC Milan looking shaky? Last week's 0-0 draw did little to settle this tie, but Villarreal will be slight favorites at home after pulling off a draw on the road. 

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