Paris, Dec 15: Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain crashed out of the Europa League on Wednesday, a costly exit for an ambitious French club desperate for silverware and one which increases the pressure on coach Antoine Kombouare.
PSG grabbed two goals in the last five minutes at Parc des Princes to beat Athletic Bilbao 4-2, but it was all for nothing as Salzburg won 3-2 at Slovan Bratislava to join Bilbao as Group F's qualifiers for the last 32.
"It's very disappointing. We honestly could have got through in this group," said Kombouare, whose future is under heavy scrutiny. "But when your qualification comes down to one game and your destiny is no longer in your own hands, then things become difficult."
Lazio, Besiktas, Wisla Krakow and Steaua Bucharest were the other teams to qualify for the knockout phase on Wednesday.
Wisla's progress from Group K was sealed in dramatic circumstances, beating FC Twente 2-1 and then seeing Fulham concede a goal to Odense with 10 seconds remaining in stoppage time to draw 2-2. The English club, finalists in 2010, would have gone through with a win.
The remaining four berths are up for grabs on Thursday, with the draw for the last 32 being made on Friday.
PSG's wealthy Qatari backers, QSI, spent €82 million ($116 million) on new signings at the start of the season, but the club is now out of both the League Cup and the Europa League.
Kombouare's position has been under the microscope in recent weeks after the club's sporting director Leonardo admitted he had met with former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti.
After Wednesday's game, Leonardo denied suggestions that PSG midfielder Claude Makelele is in line to replace Kombouare in an interim role before a bigger name takes over.
"It's good to talk about this possibility, but we never offered him this position," Leonardo said.
Defender Jon Aurtenetxe gave Bilbao an early lead and David Lopez equalized for the Spanish side after Javier Pastore and Mathieu Bodmer put PSG 2-1 up.
Midfielder Inigo Perez's own goal and substitute striker Guillaume Hoarau's penalty sealed PSG's win, which was ultimately in vain after Salzburg came from two goals down inside the first six minutes to secure second place in the group.
Lazio was the other big name threatened by early elimination from Europe's second-tier club competition on Wednesday but the Italian side avoided the same fate as PSG.
Libor Kozak and Giuseppe Sculli scored the goals as Lazio qualified in second place in Group D with a 2-0 win over pool winner Sporting Lisbon. FC Vaslui could have still denied Lazio a last-32 spot by beating FC Zurich, but the Romanian team lost 2-0 in Switzerland.
Besiktas leapfrogged Stoke to finish top of Group E by rallying to a 3-1 victory over the English club, which had already clinched its place in the knockout phase.
Fulham looked to be cruising through when it went 2-0 ahead by the 31st minute following goals by United States midfielder Clint Dempsey — his third goal in the competition — and Kerim Frei.
However, the English club paid the price for sitting back and protecting its lead, with Hans Henrik Andreasen halving the deficit in the 64th and substitute Djiby Fall grabbing a dramatic equalizer with the final touch of the game.
"It was the last cross of the match, so I'm very, very disappointed," Fulham manager Martin Jol said.
Wisla did its part by ending Twente's unbeaten record in the group, although the Dutch club had already qualified as group winners.
Steaua, the 1986 European champions, pipped Maccabi Haifa to second place behind Schalke in Group J by beating AEK Larnaca 3-1. Maccabi slumped to a 3-0 home loss to Schalke, which had already qualified.
Anderlecht sealed top spot in Group L with a perfect record by winning 5-3 at home to Lokomotiv Moscow, in a match between two teams who had already gone through.
Anderlecht striker Matias Suarez scored for the seventh time in this season's competition, helping the Belgian club reach a total of 18 goals from its six group games.