In the end it was rather straightforward, as Liverpool dispatched Hoffenheim with relative ease to book their place in the Champions League group stage.
Manager Jürgen Klopp had said it could be looked at as a ‘final’, and called on the Anfield crowd to spur them to victory, just about highlighting the importance of this game.
His opposite number, Julian Nagelsmann was quite confident despite the first leg loss at home, and had said that the Reds would try to score early in this return leg.
But even he wouldn’t have expected such a whirlwind start from their hosts, as a brace from Emre Can, either of Mohammed Salah’s second goal for the club, put Liverpool 5-1 up in the tie after just 20 minutes of the second leg. Die Kraichgauer got a goal back on 28 minutes through Mark Uth – who scored in the first leg as well, but even at that stage it felt more like a consolation; and less than 20 minutes into the second half, former Hoffenheim forward Roberto Firmino added a fought for Liverpool. The Reds did concede another late on- from Sandro Wagner, but it mattered little, as the 4-2 victory- 6-3 on aggregate- sealed their spot in the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in three seasons, while Hoffenheim drop down to the Europa League.
Elsewhere: Napoli saw off Nice in a 4-0 aggregate win, after a 2-0 victory in the second leg on Tuesday. The biggest talking point was the visitors’ opening goal, as early in the second half Jose Callejon headed home a corner after being left free in the box, as his marker Mario Balotelli was at the touchline arguing with officials.
Balotelli was eventually substituted, to boos from the home crowd, before Lorenzo Insigne rounded off the tie with a goal in the 89th minute.
FK Qarabag, against the odds, qualified for the group stage, at the expense of Danish side FC Kobenhavn. Gurban Gurbanov’s team travelled to Denmark with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, and despite falling behind in the second, thanks to a late first half goal from their hosts, they responded with an equaliser just past the hour mark to put themselves in the driving seat in the tie. Kobenhavn would eventually get back in front, and win the second leg 2-1, but the 2-2 aggregate scoreline meant Qarabag went through on away goals, and they became the first Azerbaijani side to ever appear in the Champions League group phase. Sevilla and Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir played out a 2-2 draw at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, although Sevilla went through courtesy of their first leg 2-1 victory in Turkey. The draw for the group stage takes on Thursday evening, as the 32 remaining teams get set to know their fate.
Liverpool 4-2 Hoffenheim (6-3 on aggregate)
CSKA Moscow 2-0 BSC Young Boys (3-0 on aggregate)
FC Kobenhavn 2-1 FK Qarabag (2-2): Qarabag go through on away goals
Nice 0-2 Napoli (0-4 on aggregate)
Steaua Bucharest 1-5 Sporting CP (1-5 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (4-8 on aggregate)
Sevilla 2-2 Istanbul Basaksehir (4-3 on aggregate)
Slavia Prague 0-0 APOEL Nicosia (0-2 on aggregate)
HNK Rijeka 0-1 Olympiacos (1-3 on aggregate)
GNK Maribor 1-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva (2-2): Maribor go through on away goals