AC Milan and Arsenal sealed first place in their Europa League groups on Thursday with a game to spare, albeit in notably different fashions.
Vincenzo Montella’s AC Milan thrashed Austria Vienna 5-1 at the San Siro in Group D, while Arsenal fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat against Cologne but still qualified top after Crvena Zvezda drew 0-0 with BATE Borisov in the other Group H match.
Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Red Bull Salzburg, Nice, Braga and FK Oestersunds also clinched qualification to the last 32.
Christoph Monschein sent Vienna ahead against Milan, but Andre Silva and Patrick Cutrone hit doubles after Ricardo Rodriguez’s equaliser, leading to a repeat of the scoreline in the first group game when these sides met in Austria.
The seven-time European Cup winners deserved their hefty victory, while AEK Athens are well-placed to progress in second after drawing 2-2 with Rijeka, although Vienna can still go through too.
“Milan were just too strong. We have to focus now on AEK, we have to focus on our own game. I’m confident that we will finish as runners-up in our group,” said Austria Vienna goalkeeper Patrick Pentz.
Arsenal suffered in Germany, meanwhile, with Francis Coquelin hitting the post but Cologne took a shock lead when Sehrou Guirassy converted from the penalty spot in the 61st minute after he was fouled by Mathieu Debuchy.
Arsene Wenger made 11 changes from the side that beat Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday, but was not punished despite the defeat thanks to the draw in the other group game.
“You feel you have done the job to finish top of the group,” said Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger. “We now play our final game at home against BATE Borisov without much at stake, other than the fact that we want to win the game. It’s what we wanted.”
Elsewhere Cedric Bakambu’s double helped Villarreal secure qualification as they edged a 3-2 thriller against FC Astana in Kazakhstan.
Junior Kabananga opened the scoring for the hosts in the 22nd minute but Daniel Raba equalised six minutes before the break.
The lethal Bakambu, on as a substitute, hit a brace to send Villarreal clear before Patrick Twumasi netted in the 88th minute, with Villarreal topping Group A if they draw their final match against Maccabi Tel Aviv, who lost 2-0 to second place Slavia Prague.
“We achieved our objective,” said Villarreal coach Javier Calleja. “What the team has done deserves a lot of merit, we are playing really well.”
Atalanta and Lyon will fight it out for first place in Group E when they face each other in the final round, after thrashing Everton and Apollon 5-1 and 4-0 respectively.
Group L leaders Zenit St. Petersburg beat Sardar Skopje 2-1 to stay top, although Mikel Oyarzabal’s 90th minute strike for Real Sociedad helped them beat Rosenborg 1-0, secure qualification and give them a chance to progress as group winners if they beat the Russians in the final game.
Red Bull Salzburg qualified in style with a 3-0 win to ensure they will progress in first place from Group I, while 10-man Marseille, who are second, drew 1-1 with Konyaspor.
Athletic Bilbao launched a rousing comeback against Hertha Berlin in Group J to move second, with Inaki Williams’s 82nd minute goal earning them a 3-2 win.
Leaders Oestersunds ensured their qualification with a 2-0 win over Zorya, who could still qualify if they beat Athletic in the final game.
Lazio, already through as Group K winners before this round of fixtures, drew 1-1 with Vitesse, while Nice booked their place in the next round with a 3-1 win over Zulte-Waregem, with Italian striker Mario Balotelli netting two goals.
Braga qualified from Group C by beating Hoffenheim 3-1, while Ludogorets were defeated 2-1 by Istanbul Basaksehir, with the Turkish side now in with a chance of overhauling the second place Bulgarians.
FC Sheriff moved top of Group F with a 1-0 win over Zlin, while Lokomotiv Moscow are second after beating FC Copenhagen 2-1.
Already qualified Group G leaders Steua Bucharest failed to seal top spot after losing 2-0 against Viktoria Plzen, while Lugano beat Hapoel Beer Sheva 1-0 to keep their own hopes alive.
Group B leaders Dynamo Kiev were beaten 3-2 by Skenderbeu, who have given themselves a chance of overtaking Partizan Belgrade on the final day, although the Serbian side beat Young Boys 2-1.