Liverpool squeeze into Europa League knockout stage with a 1-0 win in Udinese
The Reds are joined by Spurs, Steaua, VfB Stuttgart and Basel in taking the last five places
2010 European champions Inter Milan held by Azerbaijan's Neftci in shock home draw
Liverpool squeezed into the Europa League knockout phase after the five-time European champions beat Udinese 1-0 in Italy to finish top of their group.
The win earned the Reds pole position in Group A, leapfrogging Anzhi Makhachkala on goals scored, with the Russians losing 3-1 at Swiss side Young Boys, who boasted the same number of points as the top two but exited on goal difference.
Jordan Henderson was Liverpool’s match-winner but Udinese substitute Antonio di Natale almost cut short any celebrations when flashing a shot over the crossbar in the dying seconds.
Liverpool were joined by compatriots Tottenham Hotspur, 1986 European champions Steaua Bucharest as well as VfB Stuttgart and Basel as the last five clubs through to the knockout stages.
The twelve group winners in the Europa League will avoid the weaker sides that drop into the competition from the Champions League, with Chelsea – who finished third in their group despite amassing 10 points – among the top seeds.
Joining the reigning European champions in the Europa League draw on 20 December are CFR Cluj, Olympiakos, Benfica as well as Dynamo Kiev, Zenit St Petersburg, Ajax Amsterdam and BATE Borisov.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez could meet one of his old teams as Inter Milan took second place in Group H behind Russians Rubin Kazan, with the Italians held to a shock 2-2 draw by Azerbaijan’s Neftci at the San Siro.
Elsewhere, Romanians Steaua held Copenhagen to a 1-1 draw in Denmark to go through as Group E winners, with Germans VfB Stuttgart progressing ahead of the Danish side thanks to a better head-to-head record.
Under Andre Villas-Boas, who won the competition with Porto in 2011, Tottenham took the final berth in Group J when beating Panathinaikos 3-1 at home, with group winners Lazio cruising to a 4-1 win at Maribor.
The Europa League’s defending champions, Atletico Madrid, eventually had to settle for second place in Group B, after losing 1-0 to Viktoria Plzen with the victory earning the Czechs top spot.
The remaining sides to go through as group winners are Fenerbahce (Group C), Bordeaux (Group D), Dnipro (Group F), Genk (Group G), Lyon (Group I), Metalist Kharkiv (Group K) and Hannover (Group L).
Joining them in the Round of 32, which kicks off next February, are Borussia Monchengladbach, Newcastle United, Napoli, Sparta Prague and Bayer Leverkusen.
Yet the team everyone will be looking out for in the draw is Chelsea, who suffered the ignominy of becoming the first Champions League holders to be eliminated at the group stage this week.
On Thursday, Blues midfielder John Obi Mikel was suspended for three games and fined US$96,000 by the FA after admitting a charge of threatening referee Mark Clattenburg at the end of the controversial home defeat by Manchester United in October.