Javier Hernandez (L) Michael Carrick (R) and Danny Welbeck of Manchester United. United defeated Ajax in the UEFA Europa League on February 16, 2012. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

UEFA Europa League 2012: Manchesters United And City Win

Both Manchester clubs, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and PSV Eindhoven were among Thursday's victorious sides.

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UEFA Europa League 2012: Thursday's Late Scores

PSV Eindhoven took a large step toward qualifying for the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League with a 2-1 win against Trabzonspor that was rather easier than it should have been. Strikes from Tim Matavž and Ola Toivonen in the sixth and 12th minute respectively ensured that PSV would take a good result back to Holland, and they won't be too bothered by having conceded. Dutch compatriots FC Twente had a good day as well, with Ola John scoring early in the second half to see of Steaua Bucuresti 1-0. It was hardly a compelling performance, but a win and an away goal are more than welcome for Steve McClaren's side.

Elsewhere, injury-hit Udinese failed to find the net at home against PAOK Salonika despite 13 shots. The scoreless tie sets up what should be a fascinating return leg in Greece, while Wisla Kraków survived a first-half sending-off to level in the 88th minute against Standard Liège in a 1-1 draw. Hannover 96, meanwhile, staged a furious second-half comeback against Club Brugge. Jan Schlaudraff's 81st-minute penalty sealed a deserved 2-1 home victory for the Bundesliga side.

FC Porto 1-2 Manchester City

Hannover 96 2-1 Club Brugge

Steaua Bucuresti 0-1 Twente Enschede

Stoke City 0-1 Valencia

Trabzonspor 1-2 PSV Eindhoven

Udinese 0-0 PAOK Salonika

Wisla Krakow 1-1 Standard Liege


FC Porto Vs. Manchester City, 2012 Europa League: Citizens Grab Comeback Victory

FC Porto got off to a wonderful start at the Estádio do Dragão and put Manchester City in a bad position with an early goal, but the Citizens rallied back and are now in an excellent position to advance to the next round in the UEFA Europa League. Porto look all but out and will need a miracle at Eastlands following their 2-1 home loss on Thursday night.

Porto's goal was an excellent one, created in the 27th minute. On the left wing, new acquisition Lucho Gonzalez and Hulk played a great combination that resulted in Lucho releasing Hulk to the byline. He put in a great low cross and the City defense failed to pick up Varela, who finished the chance to make it 1-0.

City's equalizer came in the 55th minute in embarrassing fashion for the Dragons. On a cross into the box toward Mario Balotelli, Alvaro Pereira completely botched a clearance and deflected the ball into his own goal. It appeared as if Porto would hold on for a draw for much of the match, but City would find the winner in impressive fashion. Recently back from the Africa Cup of Nations, Yaya Toure came on as a substitute and set up Sergio Aguero for the winner with a brilliant run and no-look pass across the face of goal in the 84th minute.

For more on the Citizens, check out Manchester City blog Bitter And Blue.


Stoke City Vs. Valencia, 2012 Europa League: Mehmet Topal Wondergoal Earns Visitors Win

Valencia showed a touch of class as they dispatched Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, but their opponents made things very difficult over the course of the match. The La Liga side initially seemed unprepared to deal with the raw physicality of the Potters, and they were particularly stretched by an early aerial bombardment capped by some monstrous long throw-ins courtesy of Rory Delap.

However, the visitors seemed more than capable on the break and they too were threatening whenever Stoke pushed up too far, only for moves to break down on the final pass. Both teams were looking like they could score, but neither managed until a moment of magic from Turkey's Mehmet Topal, who picked the ball up 35 yards from goal, took a couple of touches and blasted a shot right past Asmir Begovic and into the top corner.

That description doesn't do Topal's strike justice. Thousands of years ago, Plato spoke of a mental world in which concepts of things reside. A table, for example, or a square. In the real world, nothing is a perfect table or a perfect square. This was a glimpse into that realm of the mind -- the Platonic long-range shot. It was hit about as hard as is humanly possible, making a beeline from Topal's right boot into the back of the net. It may still have been rising as it crossed the line. It was brilliant, and deserved to win any football match.

But there was still about an hour of football left to be played, and it featured Stoke pouring forward in an attempt to equalize while Valencia played around with the counterattack. It was the visitors who came closest to the game's second when Sofiane Feghouli slammed the ball into the post thanks to a vicious deflection off Robert Huth. Ultimately, the match would end at 1-0, and Valencia take an important lead back to the Mestalla for the second leg.


UEFA Europa League 2012: Thursday's Early Scores

Metalist Kharkiv virtually secured their passage to the next round of Europa League play after a smashing 4-0 win against SV Salzburg in Austria, with Jonathan Cristaldo notching a first-half brace to put the Ukrainians in commanding position. AZ Alkmaar also poicked up a first leg win, although considering their opponents were the rather toothless Anderlecht, they'll be disappointed that Adam Maher's 35th-minute strike was the whole margin of victory - a difficult return leg in Belgium awaits.

Elsewhere, Viktoria Plzen and Schalke 04 battled to a 1-1 draw, with the visiting Germans relying on a late Klaas-Jan Huntelaar goal to level the scores and take a vital away goal from the tie, while an even later goal by Sporting Lisbon's Filipe Andre Santos saw his team salvage a 2-2 draw against Legia Warsaw. Here is the full set of scores from the early action.

Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 Athletic Bilbao

Ajax 0-2 Manchester United

AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Anderlecht

Lazio 1-3 Atletico Madrid

Legia Warsaw 2-2 Sporting Lisbon

SV Salzburg 0-4 Metalist Kharkiv

Viktoria Plzen 1-1 Schalke 04


Ajax Vs. Manchester United, 2012 Europa League: Red Devils Win After Great Second Half

Manchester United didn't perform well in the first half of their UEFA Europa League first leg match against Ajax, but came out with a much better performance in the second half to come away with a 2-0 away victory. Ajax won't have much of a chance to progress to the next round after failing to get at least a draw at home, and the second leg might just be a fun little run-out for the Red Devils.

Ajax put Man United under all kinds of pressure in the first half, but couldn't find a breakthrough. While Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick were overrun in the middle, the Red Devils defense and David De Gea did their part to keep it 0-0 heading into halftime, where Alex Ferguson made some adjustments -- or at least subjected the team to a great team talk.

Ashley Young found the breakthrough for the visitors in the 59th minute, following a corner kick. Young was the man who took the corner, but Ajax failed to clear the ball on multiple occasions immediately following the set piece. This eventually resulted in a cross by Nani which found Young, who scored easily with a passed shot down the middle. Ajax goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer will be disappointed that he didn't at least get a hand to the shot.

'Chicharito' Javier Hernandez scored the clincher for United, netting his first goal in Europe this season and his ninth goal in all competitions. Antonio Valencia started the move with a pass to Wayne Rooney, who set up the Little Pea with a simple finish with a great ball across the box.

Unfortunately for United, even though they kept a clean sheet, the game ended on a sour note. Valencia picked up an injury, and had to be substituted off.

For more on the Red Devils, check out Manchester United blog The Busby Babe.


Lazio Vs. Atletico Madrid, 2012 Europa League: Falcao Brilliant In Atleti Win

Lazio appears to be all but out of Europe after their defense put in a poor performance on Thursday at the Olimpico. Radamel Falcao and Atletico Madrid looked fantastic going forward in a 3-1 road win that should all but lock up their progression to the Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League.

The home side actually got off to a brilliant start, partially assisted by Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The young Belgian international mishandled a long shot by Antonio Candreva, and Miroslav Klose punched in the rebound in the 19th minute.

Atleti would find a quick equalizer, through Adrian in the 25th minute. Falcao set up the goal with a brilliant header, winning the ball in the air and heading to the back post. Adrian anticipated the header well and had a simple tap-in at the back post to equalize. Atletico Madrid would take the lead in the 37th minute as Falcao got a goal of his own, finishing off a low cross by Diego.

The first half was relatively even, but the second half was dominated by the visitors. Lazio appeared to lack fight and belief, while Atletico Madrid probably should have scored more than one. Their lone goal in the second half came on a brilliant assist by Adrian, who found Falcao at the back post with a great low cross in the 63rd minute. All Falcao had to do was get a slight touch to guide the ball into the net and clinch the win for his team.


Lokomotiv Moscow Vs. Athletic Bilbao, 2012 UEFA Europa League: Loko Score Comeback Win

Les Leones will feel like they have a great shot to advance to the next round as they come home to La Catedral, but Lokomotiv Moscow have fired themselves into the tie with a great second half performance at home. Athletic Bilbao took a 1-0 lead early in Moscow, but the home side fought back and found two goals for a big 2-1 victory.

While a one-goal loss and an away goal for Athletic sets up what is more or less a toss-up at San Mames, Athletic will be unhappy that they weren't able to hold on for a better result and give themselves a massive advantage for the second let.

Iker Muniain scored the opener, provided with a fantastic assist by Markel Susaeta. The talented winger beat three men with an incredible dribbling move in the 34th minute before cutting back to Athletic's young starlet, who was able to hit a well-placed finish from 10 yards out.

In the 60th minute, Felipe Caicedo got his team back into the match by drawing a penalty from Jon Aurtenetxe. Caidedo was looking for contact all the way and went down easily, but there was no question that Aurtenetxe made contact with his ankles and committed a foul. Dennis Glushakov stepped up and converted the penalty to tie the match.

Caidedo would find the winner ten minutes later. Renat Yanbaev provided the assist with a great cross, which was chested down by Caidedo, then finished low past Gorka Iraizoz.

For more on Los Leones, check out The Offside Athletic Bilbao.


Ajax Vs. Manchester United, 2012 Europa League: Lineups

Manchester United begin their Europa League campaign in Amsterdam, where they're putting out a fairly strong but not 100% side against fellow Champions League dropouts Ajax. Ajax, meanwhile, are going all kinds of crazy, fielding an incredibly attacking side that has a real chance of causing United problems in midfield. Of course, they're going to have some difficulty in containing Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez as a result, so we could see a very interesting game here today...

Ajax starting lineup (4-3-3): Kenneth Vermeer; Dico Koppers, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Vurnon Anita; Siem de Jong, Ismail Aissati, Christian Eriksen; Aras Ozbiliz, Dmitri Bulykin, Miralem Sulejmani.

Substitutes from: Jacobus Cillessen, Daley Blind, Nicolai Moeller, Ricardo van Rhijhn, Nicolas Lodeiro, Thulani Sereno, Jody Lukoki.

Manchester United starting lineup (4-4-1-1): David de Gea; Fabio da Silva, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones; Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick, Nani; Wayne Rooney; Javier Hernandez.

Subsitutes from: Ben Amos, Chris Smalling, Park Ji-Sung, Paul Pogba, Paul Scholes, Antonio Valencia, Danny Welbeck.


FC Porto Vs. Manchester City, 2012 Europa League: Dragons Without Cup-Tied Additions

Manchester City travel to Porto for a tricky first match in the Europa League.


Ajax Vs. Manchester United, 2012 Europa League: Red Devils Defense Should Be Tested

Manchester United kicks off their Europa League campaign against Ajax on Thursday.

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