Newcastle sink nine-man Olympiakos
Justin Palmer, Reuters/London
Last season's UEFA Cup semifinalists Newcastle United rode out a stormy encounter in Athens against Olympiakos Piraeus to put one foot in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
The Greek side's 80th birthday celebrations turned sour at the Karaiskakis stadium in a volatile second knockout round, first leg clash which Newcastle won 3-1. Olympiakos had two players sent off in the first half while Spanish referee Arturo Ibanez awarded a penalty to each side.
Portugal's Sporting and Dutch side AZ Alkmaar chalked up impressive away wins while former winners Parma had eight players booked but held Sevilla to a 0-0 draw in Spain.
Cup favorites Villarreal, beaten by Valencia in the semis last season, will have to wait until Wednesday to play their first leg in Romania against Steaua Bucharest. Heavy snow in the Romanian capital forced the game to be postponed.
Newcastle's passage to victory in Athens was made easier after the Greek league leaders were reduced to nine men, Grigoris Georgatos and Athanasios Kostoulas dismissed in the opening 45 minutes.
Georgatos was sent off for a seemingly innocuous challenge on Kieron Dyer as the England midfielder looked to follow up his own shot on 12 minutes.
Alan Shearer gave Greek international keeper Antonis Nikopolidis no chance from the spot, but the lead lasted just three minutes before Andy O'Brien was penalized for a shirt pull and Serbian Predrag Djordjevic made it 1-1.
Shearer had a header cleared off the line but the Premier League side scored again on 33 minutes, Frenchman Lauren Robert curling home a free kick.
The howls of derision in the stadium grew louder just before halftime when Kostoulas was shown a second yellow card, leaving Olympiakos to play the second half with nine men.
They held out until 68 minutes when Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert converted a cross from James Milner to give Newcastle breathing space for the second leg.
"Who can say what the result would have been if it had stayed 11 against 11? All I can say is that we have put ourselves in a very strong position for the return leg although nothing has been decided," said Newcastle manager Graeme Souness.
"I have been in professional football for 37 years and I know that it's not over until it's over."
Sporting, who will host the final at their Alvalade stadium in Lisbon on May 18, were three goals up and cruising to a decisive win at the Riverside against Middlesbrough before two late goals gave the Premier League side hope for the return leg.
AZ Alkmaar did what Barcelona and Celtic could not do in the Champions League this season by defeating Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine.
The Dutch side pulled off a fine 3-1 win with goals from Robin Nelisse, Joris Mathijsen and Kenneth Perez, who scored a late penalty.