Hamburg lead big guns into UEFA Cup knockouts

Hamburg led a trio of former European champions into the UEFA Cup knockout phase on Thursday and previous winners Valencia also secured a last 32 place. Aston Villa and Ajax Amsterdam progressed from Group F along with Hamburg, whose 2-0 victory at Slavia Prague meant Villa qualified despite a 2-1 home defeat by Slovakia's Zilina. Ajax did not play on Thursday but their six-point haul ensures the four times European champions will be in the first knockout round draw. Valencia, the 2004 UEFA Cup winners, progressed from Group G after a 1-1 draw at home to Club Bruges. VfL Wolfsburg and Braga qualified from Group E, joining favourites AC Milan, CSKA Moscow, Manchester City, St Etienne, Udinese, Galatasaray, Standard Liege, Twente Enschede and Metalist Kharkiv who had already reached the last 32. CSKA's Brazilian striker Vagner Love hit a hat-trick, including an 88th-minute winner to secure a 4-3 victory at AS Nancy, as the 2005 UEFA Cup winners ended their Group H campaign with a perfect record of four wins from four matches. Love, who scored in the 2005 final win over Sporting, is the leading marksman in this season's competition with eight goals. Aston Villa rested a host of regulars for Zilina's visit to Birmingham and the Slovakians took full advantage to register their only win in four group games. VILLA STUNNED Goals in quick succession early in the first half from Vladimir Leitner, who was later sent off, and Peter Styvar stunned the hosts. Villa's only reply came from 17-year-old striker Nathan Delfouneso, who was making his first start. Defeat for Villa was academic as a goal in each half from Ivica Olic and Mladen Petric secured Hamburg's victory over Slavia in the Czech capital and left Martin Jol's side, Villa and Ajax all with an unassailable six points. Hamburg's Bundesliga rivals Wolfsburg showed why they are a strong force at home by coming from 2-1 down to beat English Premier League side Portsmouth 3-2. Wolfsburg are now unbeaten in their last six European home games and have won six out of seven Bundesliga matches at their own stadium this season. Bosnian duo Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic got two of their three goals with Misimovic handed a 74th-minute winner on a plate by England goalkeeper David James who gave the midfielder possession with an empty net to aim at. James atoned for his mistake by saving a Misimovic penalty but the loss eliminated Portsmouth from the competition as Braga took the third qualifying place in the group with a 2-1 win over Heerenveen in the Netherlands. The remaining nine qualifying places up for grabs will be decided in the last round of group games on Dec. 17 and 18. The top three in each of the eight groups advance to the knockout phase and will be joined in the last 32 by the eight clubs who finish third in the Champions League group stage. The UEFA Cup final is in Istanbul on May 20.