Raul Sends Schalke Into Europa League's Last 32London , Dec 2 : Comfortably the Champions League's all-time leading scorer, predatory striker Raul Gonzalez finally opened his account in the Europa League to fire former champion Schalke into the knockout stage on Thursday.The
London , Dec 2 : Comfortably the Champions League's all-time leading scorer, predatory striker Raul Gonzalez finally opened his account in the Europa League to fire former champion Schalke into the knockout stage on Thursday.
The former Spain international scored a 57th-minute winner as the German club, the 1996 champ, sealed first place in Group J by beating Steaua Bucharest 2-1 in Gelsenkirchen.
Stoke and Lokomotiv Moscow were the other teams to qualify for the last 32 ahead of their final group games in two weeks' time.
Kenwyne Jones headed Stoke's equalizer in the 81st minute as the English Premier League club held Dynamo Kiev to 1-1 at home to guarantee a top-two finish in Group E, while Lokomotiv beat Sturm Graz 3-1 to join Anderlecht as the qualifiers from Group L.
Already-qualified pair FC Twente and Sporting Lisbon won to seal first place in their groups but big-spending French club Paris Saint-Germain, Italian side Lazio and 2010 finalist Fulham all missed chances to progress with a match to spare.
The 34-year-old Raul's 71 goals across 15 seasons in the Champions League for Real Madrid and then Schalke is a competition record, putting him 11 clear of nearest challenger Ruud van Nistelrooy, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker.
Yet he had failed to find the net in four Europa League matches before breaking his duck against Steaua, pouncing on a loose ball to steer home a close-range finish after Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's shot was blocked by Eric Bicfalvi.
Kyriakos Papadopoulos' opener in the 26th minute had been cancelled out by Raul Rusescu for Steaua, which can still advance if it beats AEK Larnaca and second-place Maccabi Haifa fails to match that at home to Schalke.Larnaca kept the group alive by beating Maccabi 2-1, goals by Gonzalo Garcia and Gorka Pintado earning the Cypriot club a first win of the campaign.
Stoke claimed the point it required to go through from its group, Jones leaping high to nod in Jermaine Pennant's superb cross from the right to deny Dynamo, which took the lead via Matthew Upson's own goal.
The Ukrainian side is all but eliminated because Ricardo Quaresma's injury-time strike earned Besiktas a 3-2 win at Maccabi Tel-Aviv, leaving the Turkish side three points clear of Dynamo and with a much better goals-for record -- which will separate the teams if they finish level on points.
All of Lokomotiv's goals against Graz came in the second half, with strikes by Maicon, Dmitri Sychev (penalty) and Dennis Glushakov sending the visitors out of the competition.
Already-qualified Anderlecht, which won the competition in 1983, still tops Group L by three points from Lokomotiv after maintaining its perfect record with a 2-1 victory at AEK Athens.
PSG needed a draw at Red Bull Salzburg to advance from Group F but slumped to a 2-0 defeat, allowing the Austrian side to draw level on points. Athletic Bilbao defeated Slovan Bratislava 2-1 in the group's other match to stay unbeaten and guarantee first place.
Fulham squandered an opportunity to qualify from Group K by losing 1-0 to FC Twente, which had already secured a top-two finish but now goes through as group winner. Austrian substitute Marc Janko tapped home from close range with a minute remaining for the Dutch club.
Wisla Krakow moved a point behind Fulham by beating Odense 2-1 away. FC Vaslui held Lazio to 0-0 in Romania, leaving them level on points in Group D -- six behind Sporting, which beat FC Zurich 2-0 for a fourth win in five group games.
Braga, Atletico Madrid, Metalist Kharkiv, PAOK Thessaloniki, Standard Liege and Hannover all clinched last-32 spots on Wednesday. Fifteen teams are through altogether, leaving nine places up for grabs in a fortnight. Eight clubs will drop into the competition from the Champions League.