Madrid, Dec 8 (IANS) Spain will have four teams in the knockout stage of the Europa League when the competition begins again in February 2018 following the last game of the group stage.
Atletico Madrid took a place in the last 32 of the competition on Wednesday night, but for the 2010 and 2012 winners it is an unwanted consolation prize after finishing third in their Champions League group, reports Xinhua news agency.
Villarreal rested key players with their place in the last 32 assured as group winners and with a league game at home to Barcelona coach Jose Calleja handed debuts to eight players who had been with him in the Villarreal B-team for their game at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
His side paid the price when Nick Blackman netted the only goal of the game in the 60th minute.
Real Sociedad had also qualified for the next round, but needed to beat Zenit Saint Petersburg to assure top spot in their group.
The Basque side fielded their strongest side, but lost 3-1 at home to the Russian side, who opened the scoring through Aleksandr Erokhin before the break.
Willian Jose equalized in the 58th minute, but an incredible goal from Branislav Ivanovic six minutes later put Zenit back in front and Leandro Paredes confirmed the win five minutes from time.
Athletic Club Bilbao needed a point from their visit to Zorya Luhansk to qualify for the next phase and went one better with a 2-0 win thanks to second half goals from Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia, a result which was also enough to see them finish the group stage as winners of their group.