The UEFA Europa League may only be in its fourth season, but it has already provided its share of knockout round drama. UEFA.com looks back on six classic ties ahead of the start of the 2012/13 round of 32 on 14 February.
2009/10: SV Werder Bremen 5-5 Valencia CF
A 1-1 draw in the first leg at Mestalla offered little indication of what was to follow as this round of 16 tie concluded with Valencia winning on away goals in Germany. Juan Mata had pulled Valencia level on home soil after Éver Banega's dismissal, but it was David Villa who starred in the return. The Spain striker's third-minute effort set Unai Emery's team on their way at the Weserstadion and Mata allowed them breathing space.
Hugo Almeida gave Werder hope before another Villa goal looked to have put the tie beyond the hosts. However, Torsten Frings and Marko Marin briefly made Valencia sweat prior to Villa completing his hat-trick. Even then, Claudio Pizarro struck six minutes from the end to ensure the Liga outfit were forced to rely on away goals.
"It was the craziest game I've ever played in," said Villa. "There were so many chances to score, there should have been even more goals. It was like playing when I was a kid at school."
2009/10: Fulham FC 5-4 Juventus
Fulham were meant to throw in the towel after losing 3-1 in Turin in the opening instalment of this round of 16 tie. Indeed, when David Trezeguet put the Bianconeri in front at Craven Cottage inside two minutes, Roy Hodgson's side looked positively doomed. Bobby Zamora struck back soon enough and Fabio Cannavaro was dismissed inside the half-hour, but Fulham still needed three unanswered goals merely to force extra time.
Though Zoltán Gera got the first just before half-time and the second soon after, Juve proved a tough nut to crack thereafter. It required something special and Clint Dempsey duly provided it with a sumptuous chip eight minutes from time.
"When I got the ball I was wondering whether to shoot it or try to dink it towards the far post but it came into my mind to go for it," said Dempsey. "So I just went with it. Nine times out of ten I don't think I'd have hit it as well as I did."
2009/10: RSC Anderlecht 5-6 Hamburger SV
Pushed all the way by PSV Eindhoven in the round of 32, Hamburg looked certain to enjoy an easier ride in the last 16 as goals from Joris Mathijsen, Ruud van Nistelrooy and captain David Jarolím earned them a healthy 3-1 first-leg lead. Indeed they looked to be cruising into the quarter-finals after Jerome Boateng's 42nd-minute opener in Brussels, only for Romelu Lukaku's header and a Matías Suárez penalty to put Anderlecht ahead before the break.
Though Marcell Jansen's early second-half strike dampened home hopes of a remarkable comeback, efforts from Lucas Biglia and Mbark Boussoufa put Anderlecht just a goal away from qualification. With Hamburg on the rack, Mladen Petrić's cool finish finally put the tie to bed once and for all.
"Incredible," midfielder Marcell Jansen told UEFA.com. "It was a crazy game. We are delighted to have progressed, that was the most important thing. We shouldn't be conceding goals that easily, though."
2010/11: Villarreal CF 4-7 FC Porto
Still riding the crest of a wave following their 10-3 aggregate triumph over FC Spartak Moskva in the quarter-finals, Porto all but secured a place in the Dublin showpiece with a 5-1 first-leg win at home to Villarreal. Though the Yellow Submarine were in front at the interval, they could scarcely have prepared for Falcao, who scored four goals in a stunning second-half performance.
Juan Carlos Garrido's charges battled valiantly at El Madrigal, but were 2-1 behind on the night after 48 minutes despite once again taking the lead through Cani. Even a 7-2 overall deficit failed to subdue them, though, Joan Capdevila and Giuseppe Rossi both scoring late on to restore respectability to the scoreline.
"My job is to score the goals which take the stress away from the team, to make matches easier," Falcao said after the second leg. "I just need to keep doing that." He did.
2011/12: Athletic Club 5-3 Manchester United FC
This competition, to some observers, was there for the taking for United after they had failed to progress from the UEFA Champions League group stage for only the third time. Though AFC Ajax were dispatched in the round of 32, Sir Alex Ferguson's side had not bargained for such enterprising opponents in the last 16.
Wayne Rooney put United in front at Old Trafford, and converted a late penalty, but Athletic scored three times inbetween through Fernando Llorente, Óscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain to record a first win on English soil. Llorente – with a glorious volley – and De Marcos were on the mark in a similarly energetic performance in Bilbao, meaning Rooney's late drive was mere consolation.
"We played two fantastic legs and we were switched on from the start of both games, as were our fans," concluded De Marcos. "We really enjoyed ourselves, each and every one of us playing and combining well on the field – that was the key."
2011/12: FC Schalke 04 4-2 FC Viktoria Plzeň (aet)
Plzeň looked well set to be in pole position in the first leg of this round of 32 offering, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's predatory strike with 15 minutes remaining gave Schalke the advantage of an away goal. The Netherlands forward then struck eight minutes into the Gelsenkirchen return to put Schalke in charge of the tie. The 60th-minute dismissal of Marek Bakoš put Plzeň's backs firmly against the wall.
The Czech champions were in defiant mood, though, and forced the tie into extra time thanks to František Rajtoral's effort two minutes from time. However, Huub Stevens' team did not allow the pendulum to shift any further and wrapped up their aggregate triumph through Huntelaar's header and his hat-trick goal at the death.
"We didn't want penalties because we were on top in extra time," Huntelaar said. "We wanted to end it and, thankfully, we managed to do that."
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