Paris – by Greg Fraser (AFP)
Everton, Tottenham and Celtic can wrap up their places in the Europa League knockout stage in Thursday’s penultimate batch of group matches.
Red Bull Salzburg, Dinamo Moscow, Fiorentina and Legia Warsaw are already guaranteed their place in the last-32.
That leaves 20 places still up for grabs from the group phase with eight third-place finishers from the Champions League also set to parachute into the draw.
Roberto Martinez’s Everton side are enjoying a fine return to European football since their glory days of 1985 when they won the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup, the same year they became English champions.
The Toffees, on eight points, face a daunting trip to Wolfsburg carrying a one point lead over their Bundesliga hosts with French side Lille on three and tackling Turkish side Krasnodar who prop up the group with two draws from four matches.
One player Everton will have to keep an eye on is Wolfsburg’s dynamic midfielder Kevin De Bruyne who has three goals and three assists in the competition so far.
The 23-year-old Belgian has been revelation both in the league and on the continent since his 20 million euro transfer from Chelsea in the summer.
“Surely one of the best players Wolfsburg have ever had,” said his defensive teammate Marcel Schafer.
“Maybe things are going a bit better for me than last season, but that is the same with other players,” said De Bruyne who came up through the Genk system before a loan spell at Werder Bremen and then finally signing with Wolfsburg.
“I am young, I can still improve. When I play football, I always enjoy myself. I am a winner – I am here to win every game,” he added.
The two teams can advance with Everton needing a win to top the pool while a draw could see both sides move forward if Lille fail to win in Turkey.
Everton’s veteran defender Sylvain Distin says the team are in good spirits and ready for the challenge in Germany.
“We’re full of confidence at the moment. We always have been to be honest. Even if things were a bit difficult at the beginning of the season, we were aware of our qualities and knew that things were going to get back on track,” said Distin.
“At the moment, things are going well but it’s going to be a tough game. Wolfsburg are a really, really good team and I’m sure after the game we had here they’re going to try to reverse that.”
Celtic have bounced back following their Champions League exit at the qualifying stage and can join already qualifed Salzburg from Group D if they beat their Austrian visitors at Celtic Park.
Tottenham, who won the then UEFA Cup for the second time in 1984, host eliminated Serbian club Partizan Belgrade sharing the Group C lead on eight points with Istanbul’s Besiktas.
The White Hart Lane outfit will definitely qualify with a win, while a draw will also be enough if Asteras Tripoli fail to defeat Besiktas in the Peloponnese region of Greece.
In other eye-catching match-ups, Feyenoord on six points and Sevilla on eight meet in a battle of former champions in Rotterdam.
The winner is assured their last-32 place while a draw will also carry the two clubs through if HNK Rijeka and Belgian side Standard Liege finish level in Croatia.
Sparta Prague and Napoli meet in a top of the table clash in Group I with both teams on nine points and on the brink of qualification.
Swiss club Young Boys are their only threat on six points and in action on the road in Slovakia at eliminated Slovan Bratislava.
Borussia Moenchengladbach on eight points are one point ahead of La Liga hopefuls Villareal in Group A as the two teams meet in Spain.
Elsewhere in the pool, FC Zurich come into their tie with four points and will stay in contention with a win at home against Cypriots Apollon Limassol.