LONDON: Manchester United flirted with calamity before coasting into the Europa League last 16 as debutant Marcus Rashford helped them overcome an early blow with two goals in a 5-1 home victory over Midtjylland on Thursday.
United, who secured a 6-3 aggregate win, looked on their way out when Pione Sisto gave the Danes the lead but an own goal by Nikolay Bodurov, Rashford’s double, an Ander Herrera penalty and a late goal from Memphis Depay saw them safely through.
They will be joined in Friday’s draw by one of the most appealing last-16 lineups in recent seasons with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, Valencia, Villarreal and holders Sevilla among those marching on.
Athletic Bilbao, Lazio and Bayer Leverkusen also progressed.
Louis van Gaal’s United side looked set to endure another frustrating night when they fell behind to Sisto’s opener, a superb jinking run and sharp finish from the edge of the area after 28 minutes putting the visitors in control.
After last week’s surprise 2-1 first leg success, the Danes seemed to be heading for a famous upset but four minutes later a Memphis cross was turned into his own net by Midtjylland’s Bodurov and the muted fans inside Old Trafford came to life.
Juan Mata had a penalty saved but United kept coming forward and Rashford’s first goal arrived in the 63rd when he lashed Mata’s pull-back into the net before he gave United the lead on aggregate with a sharp first-time finish 12 minutes later.
Herrera slammed home from the spot with two minutes remaining and Depay drove in a fifth in stoppage time.
“It was a great performance. The fans will have enjoyed our attacking football,” said under-pressure Dutchman Van Gaal, whose struggling side have been accused by pundits and former United players of dishing up boring football this season.
Five former European champions were among the contenders in the first knockout round of the continent’s second-tier competition, which since last season has carried the added incentive of a place in the Champions League for the winners.
The Europa League is almost certainly Liverpool’s best hope of competing with the continent’s elite next term but the five times European Cup winners, who have fallen off the pace in the Premier League, were made to sweat in a 1-0 win over Augsburg.
Having played out a goalless draw in the first leg, Juergen Klopp’s side spurned several chances after James Milner’s early spot kick and survived a nervy finale at Anfield.
There was no such tension for Tottenham who eased past Fiorentina 3-0 with strikes from Ryan Mason and Erik Lamela plus a Gonzalo Rodriguez own goal wrapping up a 4-1 aggregate win.
It was an unsurprisingly easy stroll for Valencia, who took a 6-0 first-leg advantage into the return against Rapid Vienna and continued their recent upturn in form with a 4-0 win that secured a 10-0 aggregate thrashing.
Valencia boss Gary Neville endured little but misery in his first months in Spain but his team have now won four games in a row and inflicted Rapid Vienna’s joint-worst home loss in Europe.
Borussia Dortmund reinforced their status as the clear bookmakers’ favourites to win the trophy with a 1-0 victory at Porto to complete a 3-0 success over the two legs.
The prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was behind Dortmund’s early winner with his shot cannoning down off the bar and going in off Porto keeper Iker Casillas for an own goal.
Holders Sevilla, who are chasing a third straight title, lost 1-0 to Molde in Norway, but their progress had been effectively assured by a 3-0 first-leg win last week.
Sevilla’s Spanish rivals Villarreal ousted Napoli thanks to an extraordinary Tomas Pina goal that cancelled out Marek Hamsik’s opener for the Italians.
Pina’s cross from wide on the left looped over Napoli keeper Pepe Reina before nestling in the top corner to earn Villarreal a 2-1 aggregate win.
Shakhtar completed a superb 3-0 win at Schalke 04 to go through by the same score on aggregate, while Bilbao’s Sabin Merino scored an 81st-minute equaliser as they drew 1-1 at home to Olympique de Marseille and went through 2-1 overall.
Lazio beat Galatasaray 3-1 in Italy with all four goals coming in 14 second-half minutes as Marco Parolo, Felipe Anderson and Miroslav Klose netted for the Serie A side, who went through 4-2 over the two legs.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Karim Bellarabi again proved decisive in their tie with Sporting Lisbon as the Germany international, who scored the winner in the first leg, netted two more in a 3-1 victory that secured a 4-1 aggregate success.