PARIS (AFP) - Southampton's hopes of reaching the Europa League knockout rounds remain in the balance after Claude Puel's side lost 1-0 away to Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic on Thursday (Nov 24).
A solitary first-half goal by Zimbabwean full-back Costa Nhamoinesu, firing a Borek Dockal free-kick past Fraser Forster, was the difference between the sides at the Generali Arena in Prague.
Saints rarely looked finding the net. They are struggling for goals and form in general at the moment but Puel remains upbeat about their chances.
"I think we played a good first half without a clinical edge, but after we lost the structure in the second half to keep our calm. It was not enough to win this game," said the Frenchman.
Southampton could have clinched qualification in different circumstances but instead they must now prepare for a decisive final Group K game against Hapoel Beer-Sheva at St Mary's next month, while Sparta progress as group winners.
"Now it's important to keep our concentration," added Puel. "We have to play a very good game for the next game at home to make sure we qualify, for the players and fans."
In Israel, Hapoel came from two goals down to record a remarkable 3-2 win over Inter Milan, whose troubles continue as they are eliminated.
Goals from Mauro Icardi and Marcelo Brozovic had the Italian giants in control after just 25 minutes.
However, Brazilian striker Lucio Maranhao reduced the deficit on 58 minutes and the Nigerian Anthony Nwakaeme equalised from the penalty spot after Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic had been sent off.
Hapoel then made the extra man count as ex-Chelsea striker Ben Sahar came off the bench to score a stoppage-time winner at the Turner Stadium.
Southampton and Hapoel are level on seven points apiece and the Premier League side must either draw 0-0 or win on Dec 8 if they are to reach the last 32.
In other games, French league leaders Nice were eliminated after losing 2-0 away to Schalke, who were already through to the next phase and have won all five games in Group I.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Dennis Aogo got Schalke's goals in Gelsenkirchen, the latter from a late penalty, before the hosts had Bernard Tekpetey sent off.
Fiorentina could have secured their place in the knockout rounds but a stoppage-time goal by Dutchman Garry Rodrigues gave Greek side PAOK a 3-2 win in Italy in Group J.