London, Nov 29: With the chance to eliminate a possible rival for the Europa League title it won two seasons ago, Atletico Madrid can also clinch a place in the next round as soon as Wednesday.
The Spanish club travels to Celtic in one of 24 matches spread across Wednesday and Thursday and can secure a spot in the knockout rounds with one of its six group matches still to play.
“We have to think about the game against Celtic,” Atletico midfielder Paulo Assuncao said. “We have to treat it as a final even though we would still have one more chance.
“We are a great team and we have to go out looking to win.”
Atletico lost 4-1 to crosstown rival Real Madrid on Saturday but led the Spanish league leader until falling apart when reduced to nine men.
“A loss is always a loss and dropping three points always leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” coach Gregorio Manzano said. “(But) we had a good start to the game, so I am happy with my team's play.”
The team hopes to recover striker Radamel Falcao from injury in time for the game. The Colombia international has returned to practice and is set to travel with the team to Scotland.
Celtic, which reached the final in 2003 and has played regularly in the more illustrious Champions League, is coming off a 5-0 win over St. Mirren that closed the gap on Scottish league leader Rangers to four points.
“It's going to be a very tough game against a top-class side, but it's a game we're looking forward to,” Celtic striker Anthony Stokes said. “It's the best team we'll have played in a long, long time.”
Atletico is tied with Udinese on seven points at the top of Group I and can advance with victory. Two points back, Celtic could stay in contention with a draw or even a defeat, but realistically needs a win to keep its hopes alive.
Udinese is at Rennes in the other Group I match.
Tottenham is on a high after moving to within two points of second-place Manchester United in the English Premier League but is likely to rest most of the players who secured Saturday's 3-1 win at West Bromwich Albion.
Group A leader PAOK, Tottenham and Rubin Kazan, which hosts Ireland's Shamrock Rovers, are fighting it out for two qualification spots.
PSV Eindhoven travels to Legia Warsaw buoyed by a 6-1 thrashing of Groningen on Saturday that left coach Fred Rutten's team second in the Eredivisie. PSV is already assured of progressing to the knockout stage, but a win would assure it of top spot in Group C.
AZ Alkmaar is top of the Eredivisie, but will be hoping to end a run of 14 European away games without a win when they travel to Malmo. AZ is second and undefeated in Group G, but has only one win and three draws so far.
There are also 12 games on Thursday, when 2010 runner-up Fulham is at FC Twente, Lazio is at FC Vaslui, Stoke hosts Dynamo Kiev and Athletic Bilbao hosts Slovan Bratislava.
Athletic Bilbao's 11-game unbeaten streak in all competitions come to an unexpected end Sunday when newly promoted Granada edged the Basque club 1-0 at its San Mames Stadium.
“The squad is down, but we have to get back up again quickly,” forward Iker Muniain said. “We are still very confident. We have to get ready for the game on Thursday.”
And AEK Larnaca goes into its must-win Group J game against visiting Maccabi Haifa on the back of a turbulent week that featured the firing of head coach Tom Caanen and a 1-0 win at Anorthosis Famagusta, secured through a goal by Spanish midfielder Gonzalo Garcia.
Larnaca's second win from five games kept it fifth in the Cypriot standings with 17 points, nine points behind leader Omonia.
Jordi Cruyff, the club's director of football, took over as caretaker coach following the dismissal of a man he called his friend, and will be in charge against the Israeli side.
Caanen said he deserved more time at the helm since he was the one who guided the team into the Europa League.