Football News

Romelu Lukaku can’t be stopped plus other stats and stories you might have missed as the Europa League returns

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 15 February 2024

European club football continues its resumption with the Europa League knockout play-off round first legs.

This phase involves 16 teams: eight Europa League group runners-up and eight third-placed teams dropping from the Champions League.

There is no British involvement, as West Ham, Brighton, Rangers and Liverpool won their respective groups and bypassed straight into the Round of 16.

Even so, this evening involved numerous intriguing ties with no fewer than four Ligue 1 teams (Marseille, Toulouse, Rennes, Lens). But the marquee showdown occurred in Rotterdam between familiar opponents Roma and Feyenoord.

With so much happening, missing an important or memorable event is possible. But don’t worry – Squawka is here with several things you might have missed from this evening.


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The best of enemies

When the draw for the round was announced, it was amusing to see Feyenoord and Roma paired together again for the third consecutive season in a European knockout tie. Roma had won their previous encounters, including the inaugural Conference League final, so there was an element of revenge in the Rottedram air for Arne Slot’s side. However, it was still the opening leg, but Feyenoord, through Igor Paixão, took a half-time lead.

But that advantage was short-lived when Romelu Lukaku equalised just after the hour mark. The marksman has only failed to score in one of his last 18 Europa League appearances, with the Belgian international netting 21 times across that spell. Since the 2009/10 Europa League rebrand, only Radamel Falcao and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (both on 30) have scored more goals than him (25).

Auba-ssance is here

As touched upon, Aubameyang has made this competition his own, at least from a goalscoring perspective. Tonight, he bagged his 30th since the Europa League was rebranded. The much-travelled Gabonese striker put Marseille ahead before Shakhtar Donetsk defender Mykola Matviyenko immediately restored parity. From a personal standpoint, Aubameyang moved alongside Brighton forward João Pedro atop this season’s Europa League golden boot standing; both are on six goals.

Gennaro Gattuso’s men, though, will take a 2-1 lead back to southern France as substitute Iliman Ndiaye produced a 90th-minute winner. Gennaro Gattuso’s men looked on course to be taking a 2-1 lead back to southern France as substitute Iliman Ndiaye though he produced a 90th-minute winner. But in this crazy game at the Volksparkstadion, Eguinaldo ensured the spoils were shared when he breached Marseille’s defence three minutes into stoppage time.

Incredible Icardi

The early game between Galatasaray and Sparta Prague had everything: five goals and two sendings off. Okan Buruk’s side went in front twice in the end-to-end affair, but their visitors pegged them back on each occasion. With both teams seemingly settling for a point, man-of-the-man Mauro Icardi had other ideas. Unlike in Germany, he netted a 90th-minute winner. Icardi, who also registered two assists, hasn’t always loved this competition. After scoring just one goal in his first 11 Europa League appearances, he’s now scored in each of his last three appearances, but that being said, his last two efforts came in November 2016 when playing for Inter.

Les Rouge et Noirs v I Rossoneri

In today’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Ligue 1 outfit Stade Rennais secured a full-page feature to celebrate their upcoming match against Milan. Both teams share the iconic red and black colour scheme. The visitors donned in white couldn’t mark this first-ever meeting with victory as Milan — with three Frenchmen in their starting lineup — ran out of 3-0 winners.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek netted a brace. It was the first time he scored twice in a single Europa League game since bagging a hat-trick for boyhood club Chelsea against BATE in October 2018. Rafael Leão, assisted by skipper Théo Hernández, rounded off the scoring. It’s worth noting that Milan, who only scored five times in their ill-fated Champions League group campaign, are missing the Europa League from their illustrious trophy collection.

Portugal’s mixed evening

There has been a lot of talk about the recent performances of Portuguese football clubs in European competitions. A series of underwhelming results has led to a decline in their coefficient ranking. Therefore, the Primeira Liga top guns must go deep in their respective competitions this season. Porto face Arsenal in the Champions League, while rivals Benfica, Sporting, and Braga were in action this evening.

Sporting had a good start to their restarted campaign as they returned from Switzerland with an impressive 1-3 victory over Young Boys. Viktor Gyökeres was among the goalscorers. However, Braga suffered a heavy defeat at home as Qarabağ dominated them with a 4-2 win. Abdellah Zoubir stole the show by netting twice and creating another goal.

In the meantime, Benfica left it late to beat tournament surprise package Toulouse at the Estádio da Luz, with Ángel Di María scoring a pair of penalties either side of Mikkel Desler’s leveller to secure a 2-1 win. Success further maintained an impressive run in front of their own supporters. Benfica are now unbeaten in their 27 home matches since the Europa League was rebranded. Metalist Kharkiv, playing a UEFA Cup fixture in December 2008, remains the last away team in this competition to win in Benfica’s backyard.

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