The 2013-14 UEFA Europa League round of 16 wrapped up on Thursday evening. Eight clubs will do battle for the trophy after making it through tense two-legged matchups, seeking to bolster their profiles on the international football stage.
Italian adversaries Juventus and Fiorentina entered their second leg tied up, as did Red Bull Salzburg and Basel. Others had ground to make up if they were meant to advance to the next stage.
Let's take a look at the scores from Thursday's action, with a focus on some of the most exciting matches based on what transpired in last week's opening leg.
|Winner||Aggregate Score||Team 2||2nd Leg||1st Leg|
|AZ Alkmaar||1-0||Anzhi Makhachkala||0-0||1-0|
|Sevilla||2-2 (4-3 PK)||Real Betis||2-0||0-2|
|Basel||2-1||Red Bull Salzburg||2-1||0-0|
Andrea Pirlo Scores Only Goal in Juventus' 1-0 Win over Fiorentina
Something had to give when these two Italian clubs tangled in Florence, but it seemed like an eternity of intensity before Pirlo scored the eventual game-winner on a brilliant free kick in the 71st minute.
Pirlo's shot bended into the far, top corner of the goal past Fiorentina keeper Neto, which was enough to boost Juventus into the quarter-finals.
Any concerns about Pirlo's future with regard to his contract situation should be dispelled by the effort he put forth on this occasion. It also backs up what Pirlo said recently in implying that he'd sign a new deal to remain with the club, per SkySports.com's Nadia Carminati:
I still haven’t signed a contract but it’s no problem. There is absolutely no chance I won’t sign a new deal, soon there will be an announcement but at the moment we have so many other things on our plate. We haven’t yet found time to organise anything but we will do soon.
This Serie A showdown lived up to the hype, reaffirming the reigning league winner Juventus' superiority. Winning this one on the road had to make the victory that much sweeter—and certainly added to its prestige—for the Old Lady.
Credit the Lilies for putting their best foot forward in front of the friendly Stadio Artemio Franchi and keeping Juventus' high-powered attack in check. However, the hosts simply could not find the net against a better team.
Sevilla Tops Real Betis 4-3 in Thrilling Shootout
Who is likeliest to win the Europa League title?
Losing the first leg 2-0 at home had to be crushing for Sevilla. Instead of laying down and conceding defeat, though, the Red and Whites got off the mat and forced extra time after shutting out Real Betis on their home pitch 2-0 in regulation.
Goals by Jose Antonio Reyes and Carlos Bacca at 20' and 75', respectively, along with stifling defence gave Sevilla the unlikely opportunity to advance.
Another 30 minutes of frustration ensued for Real Betis, as they squandered an extraordinary effort on the road in this one and continued a disappointing overall effort this season.
As the cellar dwellers in La Liga, Real Betis had a great chance to spark some momentum—even if avoiding relegation is unrealistic at this point. Although the shootout was tight, the favorites prevailed.
Infostrada Sports noted the historical significance of Sevilla's win over their intracity rivals:
Sevilla have just won the FIRST EVER European penalty shoot-out between clubs from the same city.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) March 20, 2014
Manager Unai Emery has bolstered the Red and Whites to improvement in the league this year, as they sit in fourth in the table after finishing ninth in 2012-13.
Being in such a big hole entering the second leg should have never happened, but Emery got his side to respond to the adversity and secured a berth in the last eight as a result.
Porto Advances Past Napoli in 2-2 Draw
A bold comeback effort by Napoli ultimately proved futile, because Porto got two earlier goals in response to Goran Pandev drawing first blood.
That stretched the Primera Liga champions' aggregate lead far enough to erase any hopes of a last-minute rally. The Dragons bounced back from the early threat posed by Pandev and asserted their will.
A key save by goalkeeper Fabiano denied Gonzalo Higuain's bid to stretch the advantage to 2-0 at around the 59-minute mark. Nabil Ghilas notched the match's equalizer at 69'.
WhoScored.com pointed out how Ghilas has made the most of his chances on the pitch with Porto:
Nabil Ghilas: Has scored 2 goals for Porto in just 99 minutes of action this season #UEL— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 20, 2014
Even the most sizable of margins weren't safe entering Thursday's slate of games in this renowned international competition. It's all about survival, and there were some headlining rivalries that didn't disappoint.
Now that the last eight is set, football fans must wait until April 3 for the first leg of the quarter-finals to kick off following Friday's draw. If the bookend to the round of 16 is any indication, the remainder of the tournament should offer quality entertainment and crown a deserving winner in the end.