A dramatic night of Europa League action saw Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United all keep their dreams of continental glory alive, but Liverpool were unable to ensure a full English complement in the last 16.
Trailing 2-0 against Zenit from last week’s first leg in Russia, the Reds fell further behind as a Jamie Carragher error allowed Hulk the freedom of Anfield to put the visitors 1-0 up and seemingly wrap up the tie.
Liverpool reduced the arrears before half-time thanks to Luis Suarez and Joe Allen, but despite Suarez then levelling the aggregate scores on the hour to set up a grandstand finish, Brendan Rodgers’ men could not find a winner, leaving Zenit to sneak through on the away goals rule.
Chelsea, for their part, were made to toil by Sparta Prague at Stamford Bridge and appeared to be heading for extra-time after David Lafata cancelled out Oscar’s solitary goal in the first leg.
However, Eden Hazard notched an injury-time equaliser to give the hosts a 2-1 aggregate victory and the Blues, 19/4 favourites for the trophy prior to the game, remain at the head of the outright market.
The Londoners, who are aiming to become the first English team to win the Champions League, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Cup/Europa League, saw their odds cut to 15/4 after securing a last-16 tie with Steaua Bucharest following the Romanians’ surprise penalty shoot-out win over Ajax.
There was similar drama at Stade Gerland as Tottenham snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Lyon.
Leading 2-1 from the first leg, Spurs appeared to be heading out on the away goals rule as the French giants clung on to Maxime Gonalons’ first-half strike, but Moussa Dembele rifled home a superb long-range effort at the death to send them through.
Andre Villas-Boas’ men now face Inter Milan in the last 16 but are actually shorter in the betting than their next opponents, against whom Gareth Bale famously scored a stunning hat-trick in a 4-3 Champions League defeat at the San Siro two years ago.
Spurs are 8/1 joint-second favourites alongside Benfica to win the Europa League (having been 21/2 prior to last night’s triumph), while the Nerazzurri are less fancied at 10/1.
In other words, new customers using their free £20 bet to back Spurs to lift the trophy would pocket a cool £180 if successful.
Meanwhile, Newcastle put the frustration of last week’s first leg against Metalist Kharkiv – when Papiss Cisse had two goals wrongly disallowed for offside in a goalless draw on Tyneside – by grinding out an impressive 1-0 win in Ukraine.
A Shola Ameobi penalty was enough to set up a meeting with Anzhi Makhachkala and the Magpies can be backed at 16/1 (in from 40/1) to end their 44-year wait for a trophy in May’s final in Amsterdam.
The English trio certainly look well placed for a run to the final at the very least after two of the big favourites for this season’s competition, Atletico Madrid and Napoli, suffered embarrassing exits at the hands of Rubin Kazan and Viktoria Plzen respectively.
Big-spending Anzhi are the new 9/1 joint-third favourites with fellow Russians Zenit behind Chelsea, Spurs and Benfica, while Rubin are a 12/1 chance, and Lazio and Levante are both priced up at 14/1.