Soccer-West Ham advance with late win, Brighton seal top-two place

Soccer Football - Europa League - Group A - TSC Backa Topola v West Ham United - FK TSC Stadium, Backa Topola, Serbia - November 30, 2023 West Ham United's Lucas Paqueta in action with TSC Backa Topola's Ifet Dakovac REUTERS/Marko Djurica

(Reuters) -Tomas Soucek scored a late goal to earn West Ham United a 1-0 win over Backa Topola in Serbia on Thursday and secure a top-two finish in Europa League Group A.

Soucek struck one minute from time, evading his marker and volleying home a cross with his outstretched right leg.

Defences dominated a dull game and the hosts had the better opportunities to break the deadlock until the closing stages.

West Ham lead the standings with 12 points, level with German side Freiburg who the English team host in the final round of matches on Dec. 14.

Michael Gregoritsch's hat-trick earned Freiburg a top-two spot as they thrashed visiting Olympiakos 5-0.

Joao Pedro's second-half penalty gave Brighton & Hove Albion a 1-0 win over 10-man AEK Athens to secure a top-two place in Group B and avenge their defeat by the Greeks in their opening match.

The Premier League side could still confirm their place in the round of 16 on Thursday if Olympique de Marseille fail to beat Ajax Amsterdam. Brighton host Marseille in the final group game.

Sparta Prague edged Real Betis 1-0 with a second-half goal from Lukas Haraslin as they await the result of the Rangers v Aris Limassol match to decide the top two places of Group C.

Atalanta qualified for the round of 16 by securing top spot in Group D with 11 points after a 1-1 draw against Sporting Lisbon who remained second with eight points.

Stade Rennais moved top of Group F with a 2-0 win over Maccabi Haifa. Second-placed Villarreal will confirm their place in the last 16 if they beat Panathinaikos.

(Reporting by Tommy Lund in Gdansk, Angelica Medina and Janina Nuno Rios in Mexio City, editing by Ed Osmond)

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