PARIS (AFP) – Premier League duo Everton and Tottenham Hotspur both won to clinch qualification for the knockout phase of the Europa League on Thursday, while Celtic also progressed despite losing at home to Salzburg.
The Toffees secured their place in the last 32 as winners of Group H with an impressive 2-0 victory away to Bundesliga high-fliers VfL Wolfsburg in Germany.
Tottenham advanced from Group C thanks to a 1-0 win at home to Serbian league leaders Partizan Belgrade and a 3-1 loss to Salzburg in Glasgow could not prevent Celtic from going through with a game to spare.
Everton knew halfway through their own game that they were through to the last 32 as news filtered in that the other match in Group H between FC Krasnodar and Lille in Russia had ended in a 1-1 draw.
And goals from Belgian duo Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas secured a handsome victory for the Blues as they extended their unbeaten run to eight matches and guaranteed top spot in the section.
“It was a perfect away performance. Our counter-attacks were lethal and I thought we were outstanding,” said Everton manager Roberto Martinez.
“Big credit must also go to the back five because keeping a clean sheet here is a fantastic achievement.”
Sylvain Distin hit the bar early on for Everton before Ivan Perisic had the ball in the net at the other end only for a wrong offside call to deny Wolfsburg the goal.
The visitors then lost James McCarthy to a hamstring injury after only half an hour but Martinez’s side opened the scoring two minutes before the interval with a classic counter-attacking goal following a Wolfsburg corner.
Mirallas touched the ball into the path of his compatriot Lukaku, who proved too strong for Junior Malanda and too quick for Perisic before finishing in emphatic fashion.
And Everton then increased their advantage 15 minutes from time, Lukaku setting up Mirallas for a brilliantly-taken effort.
The result means Wolfsburg will be out if they lose in Lille in their final group game in two weeks.
Tottenham recorded their third straight win in Group C, beating Partizan at White Hart Lane in a game that was halted for around 10 minutes in the first half due to three separate pitch invasions.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side secured European football in the new year thanks to a solitary goal by French midfielder Benjamin Stambouli four minutes into the second half.
Stambouli got his first goal since his summer move from Montpellier by stabbing home the rebound after a Roberto Soldado shot hit the post.
The London club now know that a draw in Istanbul in two weeks against Besiktas – who have also qualified – will see them win the group.
In a disastrous start, Celtic fell 2-0 behind inside just 13 minutes against already-qualified Salzburg as Brazilian forward Alan netted a brace.
Stefan Johansen soon got one back when he connected first-time with Emilio Izaguirre’s cross from the left, but the Scottish champions could not find an equaliser and it was game over when Naby Keita headed home in stoppage time.
Nevertheless, Astra Giurgiu’s 1-0 win against Dinamo Zagreb means that Celtic qualify from Group D regardless and renders their game in Croatia in two weeks meaningless.
Elsewhere, Dinamo Moscow beat Panathinaikos 2-1 to secure qualification for the last 32 as winners of Group E.
In the same group, Estoril’s game at home to PSV Eindhoven will be completed on Friday after being abandoned at half-time due to torrential rain with the Portuguese side leading 3-2.
Inter clinched first place in Group F by coming from behind to beat Dnipro 2-1 at the San Siro and fellow Italian side Napoli are also through to the knockout stage after a 0-0 draw away to Sparta Prague in Group I.