Football News

Five Europa League moments you might have missed

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 14 December 2023

The final Europa League group stage games took place this evening.

Heading into matchday six all eyes were on several clubs seeking to book a spot in the knockout phase. That round will involve 24 teams: the 16 sides which qualified as winners and runners-up of each of the eight groups in the group stage, and the eight third-placed teams from the Champions League group stage.

Seeing as there have been multiple games played, it’s easy to miss important or memorable events. But don’t worry – Squawka is here, with X things you might have missed.


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1. Rome is where the heart is

One side that had already booked their place in the knockout phase was Roma who ran out 3-0 winners over Sheriff at home. Breaking the deadlock was Romelu Lukaku meaning Belgium’s record international goalscorer netted in nine consecutive home Europa League matches. Lukaku breached the defences of Slavia Prague and Servette in a Roma jersey while scoring past Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Getafe and Ludogorets for Inter plus against Dynamo Kyiv and Young Boys while representing Everton.

But that’s not all. Lukaku has made this competition his own, across his previous 17 outings in Europe’s second major club tournament, the Antwerpen-born marksman returned with 20 goals. He’s scored in 16 of those aforementioned 17 appearances with Slavia Prague away recently the only game he failed to score. His boss José Mourinho meanwhile won his 20th home game in the competition subsequently joining Unai Emery (34) and Jorge Jesus (25) as the only coaches to reach this milestone.

2. 45 years later at Lotto Park

Liverpool was already through but every defeat feels the same. Jurgen Klopp, normally jovial, would be disappointed with how things developed on Belgian soil. Having fielded the club’s youngest-ever starting XI for a European match Union Saint-Gilloise would go on to secure their first-ever victory against English opposition in European competition.

Mohammed Amoura and Cameron Puertas scored either side of a Jarell Quansah equaliser. An interesting wrinkle is that USG became the first Belgian side to defeat Liverpool in Europe since Anderlecht in the European Supercup in December 1978, with that victory also coming at this exact stadium (Lotto Park).

3. Yellow Submarine ride their luck

A game that had stakes was Rennes and Villarreal meeting with the first spot in Group F up for grabs. The hosts came into this showdown with the advantage; they led by a point and knew a draw would be enough to seal passage into the round of 16. In an entertaining back-and-forth game things were level 2-2 heading into the final 10 minutes before Dani Parejo put the visitors ahead.

But there was late drama as the hosts equalised in the 12th minute of stoppage time only for VAR to rule out Lorenz Assignon’s effort as his free-kick rebounded off the crossbar and came back to him so there was double contact. Scuffles would then break out after the final whistle but it’s Villarreal who sail into the Round of 16 while Rennes must settle for a play-off spot.


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4. Rangers avoid pain in Spain

This was another group that went down to the wire. Betis came into this final matchday with a slender point lead on second-place Rangers who had never won an away match in major European competition in Spain in 13 previous attempts (three draws and 10 losses), failing against eight different teams (Sevilla, Real Madrid, Real Zaragoza, Athletic Club, Valencia, Osasuna, Villarreal and Barcelona).

Manuel Pellegrini’s side was unable to maintain this poor Glaswegian run of form instead Philippe Clement’s men rose to the occasion and got that proverbial monkey off their backs. Cyriel Dessers, Abdallah Sima and Kemar Roofe — off the bench — all found the scoresheet to send Rangers into the Round of 16.

5. Ajax bows out to make history…

One club not joining Rangers will be Ajax who finished third in their group. It’s a further illustration of their recent steep decline but there are shoots of recovery and positive signs for the future. By overcoming AEK Athens in their final game, former Arsenal youth graduate Chuba Akpom scoring twice in a 3-1 win, the Amsterdammers drop into the Europa Conference League at their Greek rival’s expense.

A club decorated with a rich European pedigree Ajax can flip this disappointment into something historic. Having already won the European Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and Europa League the Dutch giants can become the first club to complete the UEFA set. Interestingly, the 2024 final takes place at the Agia Sophia Stadium, the home of AEK Athens.

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