Football/Soccer

Frank De Boer hasn't given up on Europa League progression

Ajax manager Frank de Boer, left, has rated his side's chance of qualification to the Europa League knock-out stages as "five per cent"

AJAX boss Frank de Boer admits his side’s chances of progressing to the Europa League knock-out stages look slim but insists he has not given up hope.

The Dutch team are third in Group A ahead of Thursday’s concluding round of pool fixtures, which sees them host an already-qualified Molde outfit that are aiming to seal the top spot they presently occupy.

Ajax will only get through if they beat the Norwegians and Fenerbahce - currently second and still to seal their own qualification - lose to rock-bottom and already-eliminated Celtic at home.

At his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, De Boer rated the likelihood of his men getting through to the last 32 at “five per cent”, before adding: “That’s not much, but you never know in football.

“It’s just like in the casino. Usually you lose, sometimes you win. Hopefully we have luck on our side.”

In Group I, last season’s semi-finalists Fiorentina have a job to complete when they play Belenenses at home.

The second-placed Italians need only a point against their Portuguese visitors to book their spot in the next round along with already-confirmed pool winners Basel, who are at Lech Poznan.

But - like Lech - Belenenses could still progress themselves with a win, and Fiorentina midfielder Milan Badelj has stressed La Viola will go into the game looking to comprehensively kill off their qualification rivals’ hopes with a victory.

“We are ready to deal with Belenenses,” Badelj said at Fiorentina’s pre-match press conference.

“Tomorrow will be a crucial game for us. We want to win and we want to do it in front of our fans.”

Monaco are in a tricky situation in Group J, with the third-placed French side requiring a win at Tottenham and for Anderlecht to lose or draw at home against bottom-placed Qarabag if they are to make it through.

Spurs have already qualified, while all three other teams remain in contention for a last-32 place.

In Group B, Liverpool are already through and Bordeaux out, with Sion and Rubin Kazan vying for the other next-round spot.

Second-placed Sion will need a point against Liverpool at home if Rubin win at Bordeaux.

Group C has already more or less been settled, with the only real issue being which out of FK Krasnodar and fellow qualifiers Borussia Dortmund - both on 10 points, with the former having the edge on head-to-head - will finish top after their matches at Qabala and at home against PAOK Salonika respectively.

In Group D, behind pool winners Napoli there is a three-way battle for qualification between second-placed FC Midtjylland, their visitors on Thursday, Club Brugge and Legia Warsaw, who play the Italian side away.

Group E sees Villarreal and Rapid Vienna both already through and level on points as they prepare to battle for top spot in games against Viktoria Plzen away and Dinamo Minsk at home respectively.

In Group F, qualified Braga are at eliminated Groningen, while Marseille will only surrender a last-32 spot to Slovan Liberec if they lose to them away.

In Group G, Lazio and St Etienne have already qualified as winners and runners-up respectively ahead of their clash in France, with Dnipro v Rosenborg a dead rubber.

Group H is a tight affair, with only Skenderbau out of the running to qualify ahead of their home clash with Lokomotiv Moscow and Sporting Lisbon’s game against Besiktas in Portugal.

Things are simpler in Group K, where Schalke and Sparta Prague have both qualified ahead of their trips to Asteris Tripolis and APOEL Nicosia.

Athletic Bilbao head into their home game against AZ Alkmaar having qualified from Group L as winners, while Augsburg can only overtake Partizan Belgrade in second place if they triumph in their meeting in Serbia by a 3-1 scoreline or better.

Football/Soccer

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