RECAP: EUROPA LEAGUE ACTION
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DAVID SMITH - Saturday, December 3, 2011
Steve Cherundolo and Hannover booked their place in the Europa League knockout round despite a loss at Liege while Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht stayed perfect in group play.

Malmö FF 0 - 0 AZ Alkmaar

Jozy Altidore played the full 90 minutes on Wednesday for AZ Alkmaar as a scoreless draw at Malmö left them looking to their final group game to secure their place in the knockout round.

While playing away from home, Alkmaar entered the game confident of taking all three points against a Malmö team which had yet to even muster a draw through their first four group games, however they were held thanks to a gutsy performance by the hosts.

A dour first half with scant few chances from either team made way for a slightly improved run of play after the break, although without either team coming close to fighting their way onto the board.

Altidore was perhaps closest shortly into the second half when he had a chance for an open header off of a free kick by Rasmus Elm, but headed well over the crossbar.

The result leaves AZ second place in Group G, six points behind leaders Metalist Kharkiv and two ahead of Austria Vienna. They will host the Ukrainian team in two weeks, needing a win to mathematically secure their passage to the final 32, although a draw might still do the job.

They return to their successful league campaign on Sunday, where they will pay a visit to Heerenveen and hoping to hang onto first place in the division.

Sporting Braga 1 - 0 Birmingham City FC

Jonathan Spector played the full game in Birmingham's defense on Wednesday night, as a narrow loss in Portugal to Sporting Braga left them needing help to reach the next stage.

Just 11 minutes into the contest, the Blues had the perfect chance to stamp their authority on the game when Braga defender Ewerton tripped up Wade Elliott as the veteran midfielder tried to cut into the right edge of the area.

Nikola Zigic took the resulting spot kick and hit it low to the right side of goal, however Braga keeper Quim guessed correctly, keeping the ball out of his nets and the game scoreless.

Continued pressure from Birmingham failed to produce any goals, and they saw their hopes for three away points dashed six minutes past the halftime restart when Hugo Viana received the ball well outside of the box and cut towards the middle where he unleashed a shot towards the right post.

Shortly after leaving the former Newcastle midfielder's foot, it took a sharp deflection off of Curtis Davies and rolled into the left side of goal, giving Braga a shocking and somewhat lucky lead and the victory.

Birmingham are now third place in Group H, and their only route to the knockout round is a win in their group game at home against last-place Maribor coupled with a win by Braga over leaders Brugge.

Standard Liege 0 - 2 Hannover 96

Steve Cherundolo captained Hannover on their trip to Standard Liege on Wednesday night, picking up an early yellow card in their shut-out loss to the Belgians.

Despite several early Hannover chances, the hosts were first on the board after 26 minutes when a corner was allowed to rattle around in the area, and eventually fell at the foot of Mohamed Tchité on the right side for a blast which flew inside the far post for 1-0.

Tchité was also a factor in Standard's second goal just before the hour, receiving the ball at midfield and racing towards goal before dropping it forward to Geoffrey Mujangi Bia.

The 22 year-old Beltian international crossed towards the left post where Gohi Bi Cyriac slid in to redirect the ball over the line.

Despite the loss, Hannover still confirmed their spot in the final 32 as the second-place team in Group B. They will close the group stage in two weeks at home against still-winless Vorskla Poltava, although Cherundolo will sit out that game on yellow card suspension.

FC Schalke 04 2 - 1 Steaua Bucharest

Jermaine Jones played the full 90 minutes for Schalke on Thursday, picking up a second-half yellow card as the team secured their spot in the final 32 with a win over Steaua Bucharest.

The Germans were first on the board after 25 minutes had passed, after Jose Jurado received a shortly taken corner at the upper left corner of the area, and hit a cross towards goal which Kyriakos Papadopoulos headed in for the lead.

Steaua needed eight minutes to pull even, when a quick succession of passes ended with Pablo Brandán feeding Raul Rusescu at the top of the area, who made a quick turn and hit his shot to the left side of goal.

The hosts would eventually come out as winners, taking the lead for good three minutes before the hour thanks to their pair of former Real Madrid players. An emergency clearance from Iasmin Latovlevici collided with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the middle of the area, and the Dutch international fought to keep possession just long enough for Spanish legend Raul to get into position between defenders.

Huntelaar slipped a short pass forward and Raul quickly popped it over the lunging keeper for the winner.

The win in combination with Larnaca' win over Maccabi Haifa gives Schalke the Group J crown. They will exchange the cold European weather for the warm Israeli coastline when they visit Haifa on December 14.

In the meantime, they next host Augsburg in Bundesliga play on Sunday, a game for which Jones will sit out on yellow card suspension.

AEK Athens 1 - 2 RSC Anderlecht

Sacha Kljestan helped Anderlecht hold onto the distinction of the only perfect team remaining in the group stage, as a win at AEK Athens gave them five wins from five.

Anderlecht took a lightening-quick lead, needing only four minutes before Kanu's cross found Guillaume Gillet to the right of goal for a relatively simple 1-0.

AEK responded resiliently, and equalized just before the 20-minute mark as Dimitris Sialmas received the ball from Nathan Burns in the area, turned and placed his low shot to the left side of keeper Silvio Aliaj Proto.

Anderlecht secured the three points with what would be the ultimate winner in the 36th minute, with Gillet heading home a cross from Berang Safari.

The only thing left to be decided in Group L is whether Anderlecht or Lokomotiv Moscow, who sit three points behind, will finish in the top spot. The two teams will face off in Brussels on December 14, with Anderlecht simply needing to avoid a multi-goal defeat to finish first.

In the meantime, they turn their focus towards their highly successful league campaign, where they will host 12th-place Oud Heverlee Leuven on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon 2 - 0 FC Zürich

Oguchi Onyewu played the full 90 minutes in Sporting's defense on Thursday night, as the team put on a dominant performance to cruise past visiting Zürich and claim Group D.

Manchester United target Ricky Ricky van Wolfswinkel made it look easy for Sporting's opening goal in the 15th minute, taking one touch to pull down a pass from Stijn Schaars on the right side before putting it away with a left-footed shot just inside the near post.

They doubled their lead two minutes before the hour, putting the cap on a dominating performance as Valeri Bojinov's powerful header from a Diego Capel cross put the game on ice.

With a six-point lead over both Vaslui and Lazio, Sporting are through to the knockout round as winners of the group with one game to spare. They will close Group play on December 14 with a journey to take on the Italians. In the near horizon, they will host CF Belenenses on Monday in the round of 16 of the Portuguese Cup.

Notes

Brad Friedel was not in uniform for Tottenham on Wednesday as they were unable to overcome ten-man PAOK in a 2-1 loss at home, leaving the team on the brink of elimination from the competition.

Fulham midfielder Clint Dempsey was left in London with what the team called a slight thigh problem, and did not take part in their 1-0 loss at Dutch team FC Twente on Thursday.
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A big question for U.S. fans heading into the World Cup is surely on Jozy Altidore and just what is plaguing the young striker at Sunderland.
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