LONDON: Manchester United are warming to the task in the Europa League as they booked a spot in the last 32 with a 2-0 win over Zorya Luhansk on a freezing night in Ukraine on Thursday.
Goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who made a mockery of his two-month exile from the starting lineup with a superb individual effort, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured an easy win that banished memories of their earlier group stage struggles.
The victory confirmed United in second place in Group A behind Turkish side Fenerbahce who ended Feyenoord’s qualification hopes with a 1-0 away win over the Dutch side.
Premier League Southampton, however, were dumped out after a 1-1 draw at home to Hapoel Beer Sheva that was enough to send the Israeli side into the next round as Group K runners-up.
United, who could now view the competition as their best route into the Champions League with their Premier League form continuing to disappoint, needed only a draw to progress but never looked in danger of suffering an upset.
Mkhitaryan, who joined United for 25 million pounds ($31.47 million) from Borussia Dortmund in the close season, may finally have won over manager Jose Mourinho after he danced through the heart of the defence to slot home his first goal for the club early in the second half.
The Armenian, a constant thorn in Zorya’s side, looks to have regained the confidence that helped him score 23 goals for Dortmund in all competitions last season.
“I was waiting a long time for this goal,” Mkhitaryan told BT Sport. “My next goal has to be at Old Trafford because I want to score at home.”
Ibrahimovic netted in the 88th minute after latching on to a Paul Pogba through ball, his seventh goal in his last six games in all competitions.
Eleven places in the Europa League’s knockout stages were still up for grabs and Serie A side Fiorentina added their name to the list from Group J with a 2-1 win in Qarabag on an eventful night for 19-year-old midfielder Federico Chiesa.
The son of former Italy striker Enrico grabbed the winning goal, his first senior strike, in the 76th minute but was then dismissed following a second booking eight minutes later.
Hapoel needed a score draw or better against Southampton to go through from a topsy-turvy group that had already seen former European champions Inter Milan eliminated.
Having barely threatened all night, Hapoel took the lead through Maor Buzaglo’s angled drive and although Virgil van Dijk claimed a stoppage-time equaliser, there was to be no late escape act from the Premier League team.
Fenerbahce required a point in Rotterdam to reach the last 32 and took all three to finish top of the standings.
Feyenoord needed to win by two goals but were undone in the 22nd minute when Moussa Sow found the net with a bicycle kick to continue his habit of producing acrobatic strikes following his overhead effort against United earlier in the group stage.
Villarreal progressed, ending the hopes of Steaua Bucharest, with a 2-1 triumph over the former European champions in Group L.
Goals from Nicola Sansone and an 88th-minute winner from Manuel Trigueros, following Vlad Achim’s leveller for Steaua, propelled the Spaniards to second place while the Romanians finished bottom.
Dundalk’s hopes of becoming the first Irish side to grace the knockout stages of a European competition were dashed by a 2-1 defeat at Maccabi Tel Aviv in Group D where AZ Alkmaar beat Zenit St Petersburg 3-2 to join the Russians in the last 32.
The draw for the next round, when eight teams will drop into the competition from the Champions League, takes place on Monday.