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Opportunity knocks for more early qualifiers

There are still 19 round of 32 berths to be filled by those competing in the group stage as Matchday 5 approaches, with the current tables suggesting a scrap until the end.

Sporting are one of a number of sides who can qualify on Matchday 5
Sporting are one of a number of sides who can qualify on Matchday 5 ©Getty Images

A number of sides can follow the five teams already assured of progressing from the UEFA Europa League group stage on Matchday 5 next week.

FC Zenit St Petersburg, VfB Stuttgart, PFC CSKA Moskva, FC BATE Borisov and FC Porto have already booked their places in the round of 32 by ensuring a top-two finish in their group. There they will join the eight clubs ending third in the UEFA Champions League group stage, a number which definitely includes FC Spartak Mosvka, FC Twente and Rangers FC.

Sporting Clube de Portugal are particularly well placed to make the grade as well, needing just a solitary point against LOSC Lille Métropole – whom they beat 2-1 on Matchday 1 – to guarantee European football at the turn of the year. A draw in Lisbon would open the door for either KAA Gent or PFC Levski Sofia, currently locked on four points, to move into second place in Group C with victory in Belgium.

Group A is similarly tight after KKS Lech Poznań continued their unexpected rise to the summit with a 3-1 win against Manchester City FC last time out. That left those sides together on seven points ahead of the visit of FC Salzburg to England and Juventus to Poland. With Juve three points adrift in third, the potential for a make-or-break meeting between the Bianconeri and Roberto Mancini's side remains very much alive.

A similarly exciting denouement could be in store in Group B, with holders Club Atlético de Madrid – currently a point behind Bayer 04 Leverkusen in second – facing third-placed Aris Thessaloniki FC, whom they lost 1-0 to in September. Leverkusen will qualify with a win against Rosenborg BK, but a failure to triumph could leave them under pressure when Atlético visit a fortnight hence.

Fellow Liga outfit Sevilla FC have a four-point cushion in Group J and will be assured of heading the section should they beat Paris Saint-Germain FC. Another former UEFA Cup winner, Liverpool FC, will also be secure in top spot if they prevail over FC Steaua Bucureşti, themselves looking over their shoulders at SSC Napoli and FC Utrecht, who meet in Italy.

Further north in Italy, PSV Eindhoven are seeking the point they need at UC Sampdoria to get out of Group I. In the other section still with two places up for grabs, PAOK FC and NK Dinamo Zagreb – both on seven points – hold a narrow edge over Villarreal CF. The Yellow Submarine, though, know that they can throw the pool wide open if they defeat the Croatian titleholders.

Meanwhile, BATE, CSKA and Stuttgart will be joined by FC Dynamo Kyiv, AC Sparta Praha and BSC Young Boys should they be defeated by their respective nearest challengers, while Beşiktaş JK will follow Porto forward if they overcome PFC CSKA Sofia. Though Zenit are safe in Group G, just a point separates their opponents on Wednesday – RSC Anderlecht – AEK Athens FC and HNK Hajduk Split in a group which looks destined to go down to the final round of matches.