Defending champ Sevilla eyes Europa knockout stage
LONDON (AP) — Defending champion Sevilla is one of 18 teams vying for 10 remaining places in the knockout rounds of the Europa League when the last group matches kick off on Thursday.
Sevilla needs a point to advance, and hosts Croatian team Rijeka.
Two-time former champ Borussia Moenchengladbach also needs a point against Zurich to advance.
Dynamo Moscow has secured its place in the last 32 but can become the sixth team in the competition’s history to make it through by winning all six group matches, providing it beats PSV Eindhoven.
Here are some things to know about the round:
CHAMPIONSHIP POINT: Sevilla has won its last four European home games, but the Andalusian side needed a late goal from Stephane Mbia to salvage a 2-2 draw the first time it met Rijeka.
Sevilla will be led by in-form striker Carlos Bacca, who has 11 goals in 20 games in all competitions, one in the Europa League.
Coach Unai Emery has called on Sevilla’s fans to give them all they support they can at Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium. “We feel strong at home, and ready to dictate the match,” Emery said. “We will try to draw from this strength while preparing with a lot of care for an opponent that can’t settle for a draw.”
DYNAMO AIMS FOR SWEEP: Dynamo is determined not to squander the infrequent chance for a winning sweep of its group at the expense of PSV, which has already qualified for the playoffs.
“The target was set by the management: Win every game,” striker Aleksandr Kokorin said.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov was bullish about his side’s form this season. “I try to give as much as I can, so that wherever I work - and by the way, this has always happened - the team reaches a new, higher level,” he said. “We have developed a formula for success for ourselves, so we’ll just stick to it. We need to move forward all the time.”
TORINO TARGETS ITALIAN CLEAN SWEEP: Torino will be hoping star striker Fabio Quagliarella rediscovers his form as it looks to complete an Italian clean sweep in the last 32.
Torino will join Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Napoli in the next round if it wins, or if HJK Helsinki fails to win, while it could also qualify with a draw if HJK beats Brugge by enough goals to ensure Torino has a better goal difference than the Belgian side.
However, Torino hasn’t won a match since October — a run of four defeats and three draws.
That poor streak coincided with Quagliarella’s drop in form. The Italy striker, signed from Juventus in the summer, scored in five successive matches over September and October, but has netted just once since — in a dismal 2-1 defeat at HJK.
SOMMER ON SWISS: Moenchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer is anticipating a special game against Zurich in search of the point it needs to advance.
“It’s impossible to play for a draw,” Sommer said. “We’ll play like we always do, to win, as we also want to win the group.”
Striker Max Kruse is sidelined with an ankle injury but defender Martin Stranzl is available again after a thigh injury. But after missing three weeks of training, Stranzl may start on the bench.