While the Champions League usually gets more publicity, the Europa League proved that it has just as much excitement, as Sevilla and Benfica barely escaped with aggregate victories in the semi-finals.
Benfica came into the day with a 2-1 lead after a strong performance in the first leg, but they had to withstand a furious effort from Juventus to advance. Fortunately, they were able to earn a scoreless draw that was enough to move to the final.
Sevilla also had a lead entering Thursday, but Valencia did not make things easy and were able to score three in a row to take the lead. While it seemed like the home team would get the win between these two Spanish rivals, Sevilla were able to get a late goal in stoppage time to secure the narrow victory.
The two winners will now compete in the Europa League final set for May 14 at Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy. Here is a complete look at what it took for each side to get through the semi-finals and reach this point.
Valencia 3, Sevilla 1 (Aggregate Sevilla 3, Valencia 3; Sevilla advances on away goals)
Although it seemed as though Valencia were going to complete yet another impressive comeback, Sevilla scored one final goal to shock the home team and earn the win.
Valencia had plenty of confidence heading into this match after what they accomplished in the quarter-finals. The Spanish squad went down 3-0 in the first leg against Basel before earning a 5-0 victory in extra time to secure a spot in the semi-finals. Sevilla forced Valencia into a similarly tough position by winning 2-0 in the first leg at home.
However, Valencia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi was perfectly calm before the second leg, telling the media:
We should keep patient, dictate matters and play with more intensity than last week. Every player must beat their opposite number, man to man. If we can do that we will win the tie. We have to use the energy our fans give us but that shouldn't be at the expense of cool heads.
The home squad certainly used their home fans to an advantage and came out extremely aggressive.
Valencia only needed 14 minutes to get onto the scoresheet, as Sofiane Feghouli did it all himself with an impressive goal, as described by Spanish paper AS:
The original lead was then erased just 11 minutes later, as Jonas used a great header to put the ball into the net for the second goal of the match:
Sevilla keeper Beto was officially credited with an own goal for getting his palm on the ball, but it was Jonas and Juan Burnat who did the work to earn the score.
At this point, it was clear that the home squad had all the confidence and were not going to rest until they took the lead. They did just that in the 69th minute on a header by Jeremy Mathieu from a pass by Ricardo Costa.
Ives Galarcep provided a description of the atmosphere:
It appeared as though Valencia were going to hold on for the win, but a header by Stephane M'Bia gave Sevilla the tie on aggregate score and the win by away goals, as noted by ESPN FC:
Sevilla's ability to keep their composure despite everything seemingly going against them is quite impressive. The confidence will almost certainly help them in their final match against Benfica.
Benfica 0, Juventus 0 (Aggregate Benfica 2, Juventus 1)
Benfica entered this match with a 2-1 lead and seemed to spend the entire competition simply trying to hold on.
Juventus held possession for 58 percent of the match and took 18 shots compared to just two for Benfica. However, the home team was unable to get any of those looks into the net and ended up falling 2-1 on aggregate score.
Benfica were fine with simply controlling possession and staying patient early in this competition. This led to an eventful first half that saw neither side earning a goal.
Things picked up in the second half when Enzo Perez earned his second yellow card of the day, forcing a red card and causing the road team to play a man down:
According to Squawka Football, this led to an even more dramatic difference when it came to possession:
Juventus then appeared to score the equaliser late, but an offside call took away the goal. Tom Kundert of Portugoal described the emotion involved:
After an injury to Ezequiel Garay in the closing minutes, Benfica had to defend 11 men with only nine. Despite a few chances by Juventus—including a free-kick by Andrea Pirlo—the Italians were unable to score.
Benfica now moves on to the Europa League finals for the second year in a row. Kristian Jack of TSN thinks they will be favorites against Sevilla:
Both clubs will go into the final with a lot of confidence after beating great teams in the semi-finals. However, Benfica have been much more impressive throughout the season, as they have dominated the Portuguese Liga yet again.
With elite talent on both ends of the pitch, the squad should be able to finally get over the top and earn a European title.
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