England striker Jermaine Defoe helped himself to three clinically-struck goals and moved Tottenham Hotspur a step closer to the Europa League knockout stages with a 3-1 win over Maribor of Slovenia on Thursday.
With Group J leaders Lazio beating Panathanaikos 3-0 in Rome, Spurs are now two points clear of Maribor in the race for the second qualifying spot.
Defoe’s first came after just 22 minutes, knocking home a Gareth Bal;e cross at the near post, but Spurs appeared to have shot themselves in the foot with a dreadful defensive blunder five minutes bfore half-time.
Kyle Naughton hit a sloppy back pass and French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris failed to react as Robert Beric slipped in and knocked the ball home.
But Defoe was on on hand again four minutes after the break with a left foot effort after an incisive through ball from Thomas Carroll and cropped up again with a quarter-of-an-hour to go to slot home Bale’s low cross from the left.
It could have been a good deal worse for Maribor if Emmanuel Adebayor had taken any of the string of chances presented to him on a plate.
Lazio swept into the qualifying round with a comfortable win over the Greeks with goals from Libor Kozak, in the 23rd and 40th minutes, and Sergio Floccari after 59.
Holders Atletico Madrid came a cropper in Portugal, beaten 2-0 by Academica Coimbra, but with three wins already under their belt, are safely through to the knockout stages.
A goal in each half from Wilson Eduardo, the second from the penalty spot, gave Acaedmica a comfortable win but it was little more than consolation as they bowed out of the competition.
The goalscoring performance of the night came in Naples where Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani hit all four of Napoli’s goals against Ukrainian outfit Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to bring them back from the brink after they found themselves 2-1 down after 52 minutes in their Group F tie.
It was revenge for the surprise 3-1 defeat in Ukraine a fortnight ago and the Italians’ cause was further helped by PSV Eindhoven slipping up in Sweden, going down 1-0 to AIK Solna, who had held them in the Netherlands two weeks ago.
There is still everything to play for in Group A, where Anzhi Makhachkala moved to the top, leapfrogging Liverpool with a 1-0 win thanks to a lone Lacina Traore goal in freezing temperatures in Moscow.
Having beaten Anzhi 1-0 at Anfield two weeks ago, Liverpool surrendered a two-point lead over their Russian rivals and are now a point adrift after four games.
Liverpool’s under-fire manager Brendan Rodgers said afterwards: “I feel for the players, I thought they were outstanding.
“The first half we were tactically terrific for 44 minutes and 50 seconds but then switched off and made a mistake right at the end.
Speaking on ITV4, he added: “It was a terrific team performance against players of top quality on a difficult pitch, but at this level you get punished when you make mistakes.”
His opposite number Guus Hiddink commented: “We didn’t finish it off in the second half, we had two big opportunities, but it was an interesting game on a very bad pitch. They tested us so we have to be happy with this result.”
But Udinese failed to cash in when they went down 3-2 at home to Switzerland’s Young Boys, setting up a nail-biting final round of matches.
In Group C, England’s bad boy Joey Barton seemed to have set Marseille on their way to victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach, cancelling out Mike Hanke’s 20th minute opener with a classic goal direct from a corner before Andre Ayew made it 2-1 after 67 minutes.
But deep into injury time, the German side’s Juan Arango capitalised on a defensive mix-up to earn a draw which leaves the second qualifying spot up for grabs.
Turkey’s Fenerbahce are already through, clinching their place with a 2-0 win over little AEL Limassol of Cyprus, Dirk Kuyt grabbing the first inside 11 minutes and Moussa Sow wrapping it up before half-time.
Newcastle kept their hopes alive with a come-from-behind draw away to Brugge in Belgium.
The home side were two goals to the good after 19 minutes through Ivan Trickovski and Jesper Jorgensen, only for two goals in as many minutes just before the interval from Vurnon Anita and Shola Ameobi to level things for Alan Pardew’s side.
Newcastle are now just a point clear of Bordeaux, who had David Bellion’s 16th minute goal to thank for victory over Portuguese side Maritimo Funchal.