American Exports: Rough go for Yanks in Europa League
AMSTERDAM — It was not a very fruitful Wednesday night for clubs that employ Americans seeking passage to the Europa League knockout phase.
Jonathan Spector and Birmingham City slipping to third in a contentious Group H with a tough 1-0 loss at Braga in Portugal.
With the US international holding down right back, the Brums failed to capitalize on several chances, including a first half Nikola Zigic penalty kick. In the end, it was Hugo Viana's deflected 51st-minute strike that decided matters.
Thanks to a stunning Club Brugge rally from three down with 22 minutes left to win 4-3 at Maribor, Birmingham must now defeat the Slovenians and have Braga top the Belgians on group closing day next month.
Elsewhere, AZ Alkmaar’s Jozy Altidore narrowly missed on two of his side's better chances in a 0-0 stalemate at Swedish champs Malmö FF.
The American nodded just over under duress late in the opening frame, and then shot inches high after a terrific run into the area midway through the second half. Still second in Group G, AZ effectively can punch their ticket to the knockouts with a draw against their Matchday 6 hosts, group winners Metalist Kharkiv.
Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 failed to secure their place in the next round, falling 2-0 at Standard Liège. The right back, who had a pair of pinpoint crosses into the box wasted by teammates on the night, lost track of scorer Zoro Cyriac Gohi Bi on the 51st-minute insurance tally. Hannover remained second, three points and three goals in differential ahead of third place FC Copenhagen heading into the final group match.
Meanwhile, Brad Friedel took his usual Europa League breather as Tottenham Hotspur saw their stay in the tourney jeopardized by a stunning 2-1 home loss to 10-man PAOK.
Spurs must now win at Shamrock Rovers and have the Greeks do them the favor of playing rude hosts to Rubin Kazan on the final match day, all while gaining at least five goals in differential on the Russian side.