PARIS, France January 14 – Gareth Bale struck two magical free-kicks as Tottenham edged Lyon 2-1 in the Europa League last-32 Thursday, but Liverpool’s hopes were on a knife-edge after a 2-0 defeat at Zenit St Petersburg in Russia.
Bale beat Lyon keeper Remy Vercoutre with a dipping 35-yard free-kick on the stroke of half-time at White Hart Lane and then repeated the precision in the third minute of injury time at the end of the first leg tie.
In between, Samuel Umtiti had buried a fierce drive past Brad Friedel in the Spurs goal to keep the French side in the tie.
“I’m delighted. I’ve been practising free-kicks and I scored one like that last week,” said Bale.
In Russia, two goals in three minutes midway through the second half turned the tide in Zenit’s favour against Liverpool on a badly churned-up pitch in the country’s former Imperial capital.
That makes the home leg at Anfield an uphill struggle, but disappointed Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers tried to put a brave face on the defeat.
“I thought we looked solid and a threat going forward and could have been in the lead at half-time,” he said.
“But we gave away two poor goals tonight. We ended up losing the game when we should have won it.”
Big-money Brazilian signing Hulk put the Russians ahead in the 69th minute with a blistering shot from the edge of the area which just clipped Martin Skrtel to wrong-foot Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Then on 72 minutes, Sergei Semak ghosted in behind Skrtel and Glenn Johson to arrive unmarked on the left to clinically dispatch Aleksandr Anyukov’s cross from the right past Reina.
Racist taunts from some of Zenit’s more vociferous fans, which Liverpool officials had feared after recent incidents at the club, failed to materialise.
In the Czech Republic, Chelsea substitute Oscar wasted no time getting his name on the scoresheet, grabbing the only goal of a largely lacklustre game in the 82nd minute against Sparta Prague, just 45 seconds after coming off the bench.
Oscar collected a ball from Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard and fired home into the bottom corner of the net.
Newcastle were held 0-0 at home by Metalist Kharkiv in a game in which the English side’s striker Papiss Cisse had two goals chalked off for offside.
Anzhi Makhachkala beat Germany’s Hannover 3-1, despite falling behind to Szabolcs Huszti’s 22nd minute strike.
Samuel Eto’o put them back on terms, the former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker tapping in a pass from Willian, and Odil Ahmedov put them ahead just after the break before Moroccan midfielder Mbark Boussoufa sealed it in the 64th minute.
Fellow Russian side Rubin Kazan defeated defending champions Atletico Madrid 2-0 in Spain.
Napoli’s players had to face the wrath of the club’s passionate fans at the end of a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing at home to Viktoria Plzen.
Once Vladimir Darida had put the Czech side ahead, Napoli were always playing catch-up and were exposed when Frantisek Rajtoral doubled the lead in the 79th minute and it only got worse as they went in search of a consolation goal and Stanislav Teci made it 3-0 a minute from time.