Matchday Five saw nine teams seal their progression from the UEFA Europa League group stage on a night that brought high drama across the continent, most notably with a couple of five-goal thrillers that saw two unsuspecting Italian sides left shell-shocked.
Hapoel are making their UEFA group stage debut while Inter have now played more UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League games than any other club (179). 2-0 up and cruising at the break, Inter were on course to rescue an otherwise dismal campaign. But the form book was thrown out of the window after half-time, as the hosts stormed back to complete a sensational comeback, condemning Inter to bottom spot in the group and leave themselves able to qualify for the knockout stage with score draw at Southampton on Matchday Six.
PAOK hadn’t won in six previous trips to Italy so were left pinching themselves after racing into a two-goal lead after just 26 minutes in in Florence. But the Greeks were heading for tragedy after a dominant Fiorentina drew level five minutes into the second half. But in the third minute of stoppage time, PAOK wrote themselves a myth for the ages as Garry Rodrigues smashed in a winner to spark wild scenes of celebration.
Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney has endured perhaps the toughest start to any season of his long and decorated career, increasingly having to come to terms with the previously alien notion of watching on from the sidelines. But the England international returned to the starting line-up on Thursday and inspired his side to a 4-0 win over Feyenoord, opening the scoring to become the club’s all-time European top scorer with 39 goals.
Ahead of Matchday 5, FC Astana coach Stanimir Stoilov stressed the importance of his side’s home record, with the Kazakhstani club now 11 matches unbeaten in European competition in front of their fans. And few deserve as much credit as the locals, whose unwavering support has turned the Astana Arena into a fortress. Only victory would keep their hopes of knockout stage progression alive, and the fans rallied around their side on Thursday to inspire a second-half fightback that claimed a 2-1 win over APOEL. Results elsewhere ended Astana’s Europa League campaign, but the supporters more than played their part.