Late goals helped three German sides in the Europa League on Thursday. Gladbach drew to Marseille, Stuttgart beat Copenhagen, and Hannover won courtesy of a controversial penalty. Only Leverkusen had an easy night.
Mönchengladbach got off to a slow start in Marseille, a team they beat convincingly 2-0 at home in the last Group C match day. This was a vital clash, with both sides going in on four points - three behind the Turkish group leaders Fenerbahce.
But the French team gifted the Foals an opening in the 20th minute, when Benoit Cheyrou was caught dribbling the ball around his own area by Juan Arango. The alert Venezuelan cut the ball back from the byline for the onrushing Mike Hanke, who had a simple tap-in to finish.
A strong Marseille team reacted well. They had already had a header cleared off the line when Marc-André ter Stegen was left stranded after a corner, and they proceeded to push Gladbach back deep into their own half.
They finally forced an equalizer in the second half, and it came from a slightly ridiculous source - new English signing and main set-piece taker Joey Barton scored his first for the French club direct from a corner. The ball looped a long way, drifting high over everyone before slipping perfectly under the bar in the top corner.
And the home side were ahead just 12 minutes later, when young Ghanaian Jordan Ayew stole the ball off Roel Brouwers just outside the box, and made space beautifully with a neat step-over before slamming the ball high and to the right of ter Stegen.
But just as Marseille seemed to have it wrapped up, with stoppage time half way over, Arango drove a low, crisp strike in the bottom corner to equalize.
The Group E game between Copenhagen and Stuttgart was equally cagey at first - but that was to be expected after the two teams had shared a goal-less draw in Germany on October 25. In fact, neither side had scored a European goal in over 180 minutes of football.
The Germans had the greater imperative to get a result, starting the game at the bottom of the group, with just two points from three games. But the out-of-sorts Swabians ceded most of the possession to their hosts, and struggled to complete passes - let alone coherent moves - when they had the ball.
Then again, the Danes could do little with the possession they were allowed, and the first half passed by with few chances. The best Copenhagen could muster was a low shot from outside the area, which Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich turned wide brilliantly. Other than that, there was little more than the odd feathery header from hopeful crosses.
The home side made the running in the second half too, with one header from a Thomas Delaney free-kick scraping the post. But it was Stuttgart who finally broke the deadlock in the 76th minute, when Arthur Boka split the two central defenders with a cross that found Vedad Ibisevic in space. His powerful header left the goalkeeper Kim Christensen with no chance.
Martin Harnik then made it two in stoppage time to complete a good victory. The win left Stuttgart in second place in Group E with five points - and so did Gladbach's draw in Group C.
Germans qualify early
In the late games, both Bundesliga sides - Leverkusen and Hannover - qualified for the round of 32 with two group games to spare. In Group K, Leverkusen beat Rapid Vienna comfortably 3-0, but Hannover in Group L made it a lot more dramatic - giving up a two-goal lead before snatching a dubious penalty to win 3-2.
But they both found a dream start - almost simultaneously. In the third minute in Hannover, an intricate one-two between Konstantin Rausch and Szabolcs Huszti led to a cross for Mame Diouf, who sent a near-post bullet header in. Diouf had now scored in his fifth successive game, and Hannover were riding high at the top of the group.
Meanwhile Leverkusen scored a minute later, when Jens Hegeler got a free header from close range, following up smartly after Junior Fernándes had struck the cross-bar.
But that was all the scoring in the first halves. Hannover controlled the game competently enough, but Leverkusen's complacency leant Vienna more and more confidence - both Stefan Kulovits and Christopher Trimmel could have, perhaps should have, equalized.
But the Austrians had lost all their games in the group so far, and their lack of quality started to show in the second half. Leverkusen quietly and effectively got a grip on the game and their dominance was rewarded in the 53rd minute, when Andre Schürrle struck a brilliant bouncing volley from outside the box.
The contest was finished off in the 66th minute, when Manuel Friedrich found himself free and on-side after a Leverkusen corner was sent back in and the defender simply had to help it on its way.
Late penalty gets Hannover through
But the second half in Hannover proved spectacular. Diouf got a second goal in the 50th minute after an exquisite, greased-lightning move down the right ended with his diving header. He should have completed his hat-trick eight minutes later, when another header missed the near post by a foot.
Instead, Nikola Djurdic halved the deficit for the Swedish club in the 59th minute - after Mattias Lindström smacked an instant cross back across the face of the goal, the Serb sent a diving header in.
Then Alejandro Bedoya equalized in the 67th minute, and the game suddenly became frenetic, with both sides missing chances.
It ended in a melee when Hannover were awarded a penalty in the 88th minute. There was some doubt about where exactly the foul took place, and Helsingborg's furious protests led to both central defenders - Peter Larsson and Walid Atta - being sent off in the dying seconds. Huszti took the penalty - and to round off the drama, goalkeeper Pär Hansson got a flailing hand to it, only to watch as the ball trickled inside his other post.