LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Philippe Coutinho scored a hat trick as Liverpool thrashed Spartak Moscow 7-0 on Wednesday to clinch first place in its Champions League group and become the fifth English team to qualify for the last 16.
Handed the captain's armband four months after asking to leave the club, Coutinho led Liverpool's dismantling of Spartak with two goals in the opening 15 minutes before his completing his first hat trick for the Reds in the 50th.
Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane (2) and Mohamed Salah got the other goals as Liverpool won 7-0 for the second time in Group E and topped it by three points from second-place Sevilla. Spartak finish in third place and dropped into the Europa League.
It is the first time a country has had five representatives in the knockout stage of Europe's top club competition, signaling a revival by the English after years of underachievement since Chelsea was European champion in 2012.
Liverpool was one of four English teams to top a group, along with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.
A day after CSKA Moscow was eliminated with a loss at United, city rival Spartak needed a win elsewhere in the northwest of England to have a chance to advancing. Naive defending put paid to those hopes and Coutinho was Liverpool's conductor.
The Brazil playmaker started the season in dispute with the Liverpool after the club refused to sell him to Barcelona following repeated bids by the Spanish team.
The fact that he was handed the armband by coach Juergen Klopp is a sign of the reconciliation between the two parties, even though speculation continues about a renewed bid by Barcelona in January. Liverpool fans are just enjoying him while they can.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80