DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Jermaine Jones and Schalke will be keen to overturn their one-goal deficit at home against Twente while Jozy Altidore and Alkmaar need only to avoid a complete collapse at Udinese to reach the quarterfinals.
FC Schalke 04 - FC Twente Enschede (agg. 0-1)
Trailing Dutch title chasers Twente by only a lone goal, Jermaine Jones and Schalke will be confident that they can pull out a performance that will see them through to the final eight of the Europa League.
Schalke are still feeling the sting of last week's first-leg 1-0 loss at Twente, with their hosts' goal having come on a highly controversial penalty call that also saw midfielder Joel Matip sent off.
Even without the Cameroonian international in tow on Thursday, they are still coming into the game with the momentum of last weekend's 3-0 victory over Hamburg pushing them forward, and will do their best to generate a repeat performance on Thursday.
Twente come into the game in the complete opposite situation, having seen their six-game winning streak snapped over the weekend in a surprising 3-1 loss to NAC Breda. They are still well within reach of the Eredivisie title and can go through to the quarterfinals with even a draw or non-shut-out one-goal loss.
Schalke's injured keeping duo of Ralf Fährmann and Lars Unnerstall will once again force Timo Hildebrand to start between the sticks. Additionally, defender Benedikt Höwedes is out with a pulled muscle, while fellow defenders Christoph Metzeder and Marco Höger are both questionable.
Twente are missing only midfielder Denny Landzaat and forward Wesley Verhoek.
Hannover 96 - Standard Liege (agg. 2-2)
A pair of away goals from the first leg gives Steve Cherundolo and Hannover some breathing room when Liege come to visit on Thursday, as a low-scoring draw or win will be enough to put them in the quarterfinals.
While failing for a third time to beat Liege in this season's Europa League, Hannover's 2-2 draw last week in Belgium certainly game them the upper hand for Thursday's return leg thanks to the two away goals.
They will, however need to improve on recent performances if they hope to advance any further in the competition, with Sunday's 3-0 shutout at the hands of Bremen in Bundesliga play being their fourth straight without a win.
Fortunately for Cherundolo and his teammates, Liege are in the midst of an even worse streak, having gone seven without a win. They were able to rest up for this game as the Belgian top flight took a break from play last weekend, and the pause could have them re-focused to take on their German opponents.
Last week's goal hero Mame Biram Diouf will unfortunately have to miss Thursday's game with a back injury, and the team will also be without defender Christopher Avevor and forward Artur Sobiech, the former with a toe injury and the latter being suspended.
For Standard, the only major absence is suspended defender Réginal Goreux.
Udinese - AZ Alkmaar (agg. 0-2)
After assisting on both goals during AZ's first-leg win in Alkmaar, Jozy Altidore will almost certainly be in the team's starting lineup on Thursday when they head to Italy to try to finish the job at Udinese.
AZ are perhaps heading to visit the Italian team at the perfect time, as they are facing a team which has failed to win in their last three, and must still be embarrassed about losing to relegation-bound Novara over the weekend in Serie A play.
Their recent poor run has dropped Udinese out of the Serie A Champions League qualification spots, and they are now trailing both Lazio and Napoli in a three-way race for that elusive third-place finish.
Conversely, Alkmaar have found their feet after a minor cold spell, having run off three straight victories in all competitions, and most importantly having gained a hold back on the top spot in the Eredivisie.
Their 2-0 win over De Graafschap on Sunday was the first game since his return to the starting eleven in which Altidore has failed to score or dish out an assist, however he will nevertheless still figure in as a central part of the attack on Thursday in Italy.
For AZ, forward Charlison Benschop continues to miss as he recovers from a pulled muscle, however more critically, the team is missing midfielder Maarten Martens thanks to a pulled thigh.
Udinese are without Brazilian defender Danilo, who is still regaining fitness after missing time with an injury.
Oguchi Onyewu is recovering from a knee injury and will not take part on Thursday as Sporting head to Manchester City with a narrow 1-0 first-leg lead.