RECAP: EUROPA LEAGUE ACTION
Jermaine Jones made his return to Schalke's starting lineup in their draw at Plzen while Steve Cherundolo and Hannover took a slight edge over Brugge in their quest for a final 16 berth.
AZ Alkmaar 1 - 0 RSC Anderlecht
Sacha Kljestan played the full 90 minutes while Jozy Altidore was a late substitute as Alkmaar defended their home turf with a narrow win over Anderlecht.
After a quiet first half-hour, AZ took the advantage in the 35th minute when Adam Maher fired home Simon Poulsen's cross from short range, and the team kept the momentum on their side for much of remainder the game.
Anderlecht did manage to keep the deficit at one goal despite AZ's constant press, setting jp a tense final quarter-hour which saw the Belgians close on several occasions.
Altidore came into the game with 14 minutes left for starter Charlison Benschop, but was unable to use his short time to give AZ any larger advantage at the final whistle.
The teams will face off in Anderlecht's Constant Vanden Stock Stadium on Thursday in the second leg, with the hosts needing a win to reach the round of 16, where either Udinese or PAOK await.
Viktoria Plzen 1 - 1 FC Schalke 04
Jermaine Jones made a return to Schalke's lineup on Thursday night, helping to anchor the central midfield as the team was able to escape from Plzen with a hard-found draw.
Despite being ineligible to play domestically until early-March due to a lengthy suspension, Schalke head coach Huub Stevens was nevertheless able to use his controversial defensive midfielder in Thursday's first-leg game.
Plzen held their own against the Germans and were in the lead after 22 minutes when Pavel Horvath received a short corner and quickly fed Vladimir Darida for a low blast that left Lars Unnerstall no chance.
Schalke were able to avoid what would amount to an embarrassing loss when a shot from Jefferson Farfan in the 75th minutes took a deflection off of Plzen keeper Marek Cech and Schalke substitute Ciprian Marica, before falling to Klaas Jan Huntelaar for an easy strike from five yards out.
Still suspended for Bundesliga games, Jones should make his next appearance in the return leg on Thursday in Gelsenkirchen, where a scoreless draw or outright victory will send Schalke through for a knockout date with either Twente or Steaua Bucharest.
Hannover 96 2 - 1 Club Brugge
Steve Cherundolo played the first 76 minutes of Hannover's home victory over Club Brugge, picking up a late yellow card that will keep him out of the crucial second leg game in Belgium.
After a scoreless first half, Brugge took the lead in the 51st minute after Maxime Lestienne headed in a cross from Fredrik Stenman, however Hannover was able to turn the tide in their favor within the game's final 20 minutes.
Christian Pander's free kick in the 73rd minute was allowed to fall freely in front of goal, allowing Artur Sobiech to put away the equalizer.
Then with ten minutes left in regulation, Jan Schlaudraff secured the win from the spot after Ryan Donk pulled down Sobiech in the area.
While giving Hannover the advantage, the result still leaves them in precarious position. A win or draw in Belgium will see them through, however they will need to avoid either a multi-goal or 1-0 loss, which would favor Brugge.
Cherundolo will be a spectator for the second leg due to suspension, but almost certainly feature on Sunday when they host Stuttgart in league play.
Legia Warsaw 2 - 2 Sporting CP
Oguchi Onyewu played the full 90 minutes in central defense for Sporting on Thursday, picking up a yellow card just before the half in their 2-2 draw against Polish team Legia Warsaw.
The Polish team took the lead in the 37th minute when Michal Zewlakow centered the ball in the six-yard box for Jakub Wawrzyniak to score with an easy tap-in, however Sporting equalized at the hour as Matias Fernandez's free kick from the left side was headed in by Daniel Carrico.
Janusz Gol briefly restored Legia's lead with 11 minutes remaining after being set up by Rafal Wolski, but the visitors were able to rescue the draw with two minutes left as late substitute Andre Santos curled a shot from the edge of the area to the lower left corner for the final 2-2.
Despite not coming out victorious, the two away goals puts Sporting in prime position to reach the final 16. Either a 1-1 or 0-0 draw in the return leg in Lisbon will see them through on away goals, however they will certainly be shooting for a victory which would leave absolutely no doubt.
Should they go through, a daunting pair of games against either current holders Porto or current favorites Manchester City awaits in March.