Eight sides are through, but 16 more tickets for the knockout stage are to be claimed as we head into matchday five of the UEFA Europa League.
Of the teams already qualified, PFC Ludogorets Razgrad and Esbjerg fB have reached the spring phase of a UEFA competition for the first time, while FC Salzburg, ACF Fiorentina, FC Rubin Kazan and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk are on more familiar ground, and Tottenham Hotspur FC (1972 and 1984) and Valencia CF (2004) have had their hands on the trophy before.
Fellow former winners Eintracht Frankfurt (1980) and Sevilla FC (2006 and 2007) are not quite there despite topping their respective sections going into matchday five, and the same goes for 1978 victors PSV – second in Group B as they visit Ludogorets, who surprisingly beat them 2-0 on matchday one.
Four coaches in the group stage have triumphed in this competition before, yet of these only two are guaranteed a place in the next round – Dnipro boss Juande Ramos, who oversaw Sevilla's back-to-back successes, and Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas, the only trainer in the group stage to have won the tournament in its current form, with FC Poto in 2011. That leaves AZ Alkmaar coach Dick Advocaat, a 2008 champion with FC Zenit, and his Group L rival, PAOK FC boss Huub Stevens, with work to do.
Stevens is unique among these former winners in that he lifted the UEFA Cup as both player, with PSV in 1978, and coach, taking the title in 1997 at FC Schalke 04. His PAOK side make the 3,850km voyage to take on FC Shakhter Karagandy in Astana, where they need only avoid a defeat by 1-0 or by a margin greater than one goal to qualify. Should they do so, it would be an ideal gift for Stevens who turns 60 the day after the match.
Losing finalists in 1981, AZ's situation is very similar as they face Maccabi Haifa FC, having won 1-0 in the teams' first meeting in Israel; a victory, a draw or a scoring defeat by a one-goal margin would allow Advocaat to start his planning for the new year too.
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