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Man Utd enter Europa last-16 despite defeat

Man Utd enter Europa last-16 despite defeat

Ajax beat Man United 2-1 at Old Trafford but the Red Devils are through to the next round on aggregate.

Manchester: Manchester United went through to the last-16 of the Europa League on Thursday despite losing their first ever home game in the competition 2-1 to Ajax.

Javier Hernandez stretched United's 2-0 first-leg advantage in the sixth minute before Aras Ozbiliz made it 1-1 with a well-taken half-volley on the night 31 minutes later. Toby Alderweireld scored with three minutes left but Ajax could do no more than scare United, who are in the second-tier tournament after they were eliminated from the Champions League group stages.

The English powerhouses progressed to the next round 3-2 on aggregate.

United will next face Atletic Bilbao in the round-of-16 after the Spanish side beat Lokomotiv Moscow 1-0 to advance on away goals.

Valencia and Atletico Madrid also progressed, as did PSV Eindhoven and Udinese.

United started strongly at Old Trafford against Ajax and Hernandez scored following good approach work from Park Ji-sung and Dimitar Berbatov. Ozbiliz hit a 20-yard shot past goalkeeper David de Gea for 1-1 and, after De Gea made a point-blank stop from Christian Eriksen's header, Alderweireld bundled the ball into the net from close range. One more goal would have taken the Dutch side through to the round-of-16 on away goals but United held out.

Manager Alex Ferguson blamed United's problems on his selection of a defence composed of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and the Da Silva twins. None are vastly experienced.

"Tonight I used too many young players in the back-four positions," Ferguson said. "It was a big risk we took."

Ferguson made four changes from the side that won in Amsterdam a week ago, with Rafael da Silva and Smalling coming in for Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand, while in midfield, Park Ji-Sung replaced Michael Carrick in the centre. Up front, Dimitar Berbatov replaced the ill Wayne Rooney as the Bulgarian started alongside Hernandez, with Danny Welbeck providing cover from the bench.

The visitors played a very similar team to the one that lost last week. Ricardo van Rhijn came into the side for Ismael Aissatti, while Nicolas Lodeiro started as part of the front three with Dmitry Bulykin missing out through injury.

The match was extremely even, with Ajax often having long periods of pressure and possession, but it was the hosts who took the lead after an energetic start from both sides, with Hernandez producing a calm finish. Berbatov slipped through an impressive forward pass which Hernandez controlled, before skipping past the attentions of Toby Alderweireld and finding the back of the net with confidence. But that was as good as it was to get for the hosts.

The two sides continued to knock the ball around comfortably, but every time United advanced they looked like scoring, and Hernandez very nearly returned the favour to Berbatov with 13 minutes played. Fabio da Silva surged forward through the middle before playing an excellent pass through to Hernandez, but after being pushed out wider than he would have liked, he slid the ball towards the far post with his strike-partner arriving late, but Jan Vertonghen stretched and conceded a corner.

However, Ajax were proving they weren't just there to make up the numbers as they looked to grab a lifeline. Ozbiliz acquired possession in the United area after good work from van Rhijn and tricked his way past two defenders before shooting, but David De Gea was equal to the Armenian’s effort.

By now United were showcasing some increasingly sloppy passing, inviting pressure on to them, with the likes of Christian Eriksen, Lodeiro and Ozbiliz looking very dangerous for the visitors.

Following a period of Ajax pressure, the hosts went close to doubling their lead on the night. Nani played a clever disguised pass down the left channel into the penalty area for Berbatov, but the striker's pass into the goalmouth was deflected ever so slightly out of the path of Hernandez, and Ajax soon made them pay.

The United defence failed to clear their lines properly after breaking down an attack and the ball fell kindly to Ozbiliz on the edge of the area, with the right-winger lashing a low, left-footed half-volley into De Gea's bottom right corner.

Although Ferguson's team ended the half with some considerable dominance over their visitors, Ajax held on to the 1-1 score at half-time after a battling 45 minutes.

The start of the second period followed a similar pattern to the first, with both sides committing plenty of players forward, but it was Ajax who continued to look the more dangerous.

First, Lodeiro went close, blasting an effort over from the centre of the penalty area following a cut-back from Christian Eriksen, then moments later Siem De Jong’s header from a corner was denied by a brilliant save from De Gea.

Without creating an awful lot, Ajax continued to see more of the possession, troubling United with their quick passing and impressive movement, but two substitutions from Ferguson saw the hosts calm the contest down a little.

Jonny Evans took to the field in place of Tom Cleverley, while Paul Scholes replaced Ashley Young, and the midfielder’s impact was immediate as he spread the ball around as well as ever.

Minutes later, Nani was inches from getting his name on the scoresheet as the Portuguese winger cut inside from the right and let rip a thunderous effort with his left-foot, but the shot crashed off the crossbar and went behind.

With just over quarter-of-an-hour to go, the hosts had another chance to put the tie beyond all doubt. Danny Welbeck, who replaced Berbatov, stormed down the left after a clever inter-change with Park, but when he approached the goal, his attempted pass into the danger-area was intercepted and United had to settle for a corner.

The visitors ensured the final moments would be nervy for United with Alderweireld finding the net following a free-kick conceded by Scholes, but they held on to progress, despite making the match a lot harder than they should have.

In other matches, trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Atletic Bilbao were reduced to 10 men against Lokomotiv Moscow when Fernando Amorebieta was sent off in the 60th for a second booking. But two minutes later, Fernando Llorente flicked a corner kick towards the far post where Iker Munian hit an unstoppable volley into the roof of goal.

Valencia beat Stoke 1-0 for the second time in eight days to advance 2-0 on aggregate. Pablo Hernandez lost his marker and cut along the goal-line before slipping a pass to Jonas in the box, where the Brazilian forward tapped into an unguarded net for a 24th-minute winner.

Diego Godin scored in the 48th to wrap up a comfortable 4-1 aggregate win for Atletico Madrid over Lazio, heading in unmarked from a corner kick. Atletico coach Diego Simeone remains unbeaten in nine games since taking charge of the Spanish club at the start of the year, while Lazio have lost three straight to further pressure manager Edy Reja.

Udinese continued Italy's interest in style with a 3-0 win at PAOK Thessaloniki that ended the Greek side's 11-match unbeaten run in Europe and clinched progress by the same score.

Danilo headed in a corner from Giovanni Pasquale in the sixth minute and Floro Flores fired a free kick past goalkeeper Dario Kresic nine minutes later. Udinese captain Maurizio Domizzi made it 3-0 with a penalty in the 51st after Stelios Malezas had pulled Flores to the ground.

"My players did a terrific job," Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin said. "They showed a lot of character and exceeded my expectations. I couldn't have played in this stadium, under this pressure."

Hannover won 1-0 at FC Brugge to advance 3-1, PSV eased past Trabzonspor 4-1 and 6-2 on aggregate, FC Twente advanced 2-0 after a 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest, and AZ Alkmaar went through 2-0 after a 1-0 win at Anderlecht.

Sporting Lisbon beat Legia Warsaw 1-0 to advance 3-2 on aggregate, while fellow Portuguese club Braga were eliminated 2-1 with a 1-0 defeat at Besiktas.

Metalist Kharkiv, Standard Liege and Olympiakos also advanced. Manchester City progressed earlier on Wednesday with a 4-0 win over defending champions FC Porto.