Juventus, Sevilla, Valencia and Benfica seal places in Europa League semi-finals
Italians desperate to win trophy on home turf
Italian champions Juventus proved too strong for a spirited Lyon in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday, while Sevilla, Valencia and last season’s runners-up Benfica also clinched their places in the last four.
Juve’s main focus is on retaining the Serie A title, but Antonio Conte’s side are also desperate to reach a Europa League final that will be played in their own stadium in Turin on May 14, and a 2-1 win against Lyon on Thursday took them into the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate.
Benfica, who suffered an agonising 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in last season’s final in Amsterdam, beat Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 2-0 to go through 3-0 on aggregate, while Sevilla recovered from a 1-0 first-leg defeat away to Porto, beating the Portuguese side 4-1 in the return at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
And Valencia recovered from a 3-0 first-leg loss to Basel, winning 5-0 after extra time at the Mestalla to progress.
Unbeaten at home this season and leading 1-0 from last week’s first leg in France, Juve got off to a superb start at a packed Juventus Stadium as veteran Andrea Pirlo curled home a typically brilliant free-kick inside four minutes.
Lyon, who were missing a host of key players due to injury, showed great spirit to level the scores on the night when Jimmy Briand headed in off a post in the 18th minute, and suddenly OL knew that one goal would be enough to take them through.
However, with former Juve player and coach, and current France boss, Didier Deschamps, watching on from the stands, Carlos Tevez had a headed effort disallowed for offside just after the hour mark before a Claudio Marchisio strike that took a huge deflection off Samuel Umtiti wrong-footed Anthony Lopes in goal and effectively ended Lyon’s dreams.
“We deserved to go through. We are pleased to have taken Juve through to a European semi-final for the first time since 2003,” said Conte, who admitted the win was hard-earned.
“We have a lot of respect for Lyon. I said to the players at half-time that if they thought it was going to be easy they were wrong. You can’t think that you will frighten the opposition just because you are Juve.”
Having fallen just short in the Portuguese league and Cup as well as the Europa League 12 months ago, Benfica are still on course to win all three competitions this time around.
Seven points clear in their domestic league with four games to go and through to the last four of the Portuguese Cup, Benfica are also into the last four in the Europa League after Spanish striker Rodrigo bagged a brace at the Estadio da Luz to clinch a comfortable aggregate win against AZ.
Benfica’s bitter rivals Porto are out, though, after a first-half collapse in southern Spain.
An early Ivan Rakitic penalty levelled the scores on aggregate and further goals by Vitolo and Colombian striker Carlos Bacca had Sevilla – Uefa Cup winners in 2006 and 2007 – 3-0 up on the night.
The sending-off of Coke early in the second half had little impact on the home side, and substitute Kevin Gameiro got their fourth goal late on.
There was still time for Ricardo Quaresma to pull a goal back for the visitors, but Porto exited the competition in the same city where they won the Uefa Cup in 2003 by beating Celtic.
There will be two Spanish sides in Friday’s semi-final draw after Valencia went through in even more dramatic circumstances.
The 2004 Uefa Cup winners lost 3-0 to Basel in last week’s first leg in Switzerland but two goals from Paco Alcacer either side of an Eduardo Vargas header made it 3-0 to the hosts at the Mestalla and took the tie to extra time.
The visitors then had Marcelo Diaz and Gaston Sauro sent off and crumbled with nine men, Alcacer completing his hat-trick before Juan Bernat sealed a memorable 5-0 triumph on the night.
Friday’s draw will be made at Uefa headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday at 6pm Hong Kong time.