Spanish Armada sails into Europa League semis
The Europa League is an Iberian affair in the semi-finals, with the Spanish trio of Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao advancing to the final four on Thursday along with Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon.
Adil Rami was on target twice in the first 20 minutes as Valencia beat Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 4-0 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate, overturning a 2-1 deficit from the first leg quarter-final last week.
The 2004 winners now run into the 2010 champions Atletico, who won 2-1 at Hanover after beating them with the same scoreline in the first game.
The second Spanish-German duel was also won the Liga team, with Bilbao escaping two scares against the 1997 winners Schalke for a 2-2 home draw and 6-4 win from both legs.
The Basque club play Sporting in the semis on April 19 and 26 as goalkeeper Rui Patricio saved Kleiton Xavier’s penalty in the 64th to preserve a 1-1 draw at Metalist Kharkiv for a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Valencia’s meeting with Atletico assures Spain of at least one place in the May 9 final in Bucharest and a second all-Spanish final in the event (Sevilla and Espanyol contested the 2007 decider) is also possible.
Valencia rebounded quickly from their defeat in Alkmaar a week ago at the Mestella.
Rami headed the opening goal in the 15th minute and was on target again two minutes at the far left post after Roberto Soldado headed on a cross from the right wing.
Jordi Alba ended all doubts with Valencia’s third in the 56th from short range after AZ lost the ball in their own half, and Pablo Hernandez’ curler for 4-0 wrapped up the big win.
Atletico were rarely troubled in Hanover and appeared to have ended the Germans’ hopes in the 63rd when Adrian Lopez slotted home after dribbling past several defenders and goalkeeper Ron Robert Zieler.
Mame Diouf’s 80th minute equalizer revived Hanover briefly until last season’s Europa League top scorer Falcao fired home in the 87th to assure Atletico of success.
“We could have achieved more today but we didn’t create many chances. We faced a great oppponent,” said Hanover coach Mirko Slomka.
Having won 5-2 at then holders Inter Milan in last year’s Champions League, Schalke hoped for another miracle after crashing 4-2 against Manchester United’s conquerer’s Bilbao at home.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar gave them hope with a low drive for 1-0 in the 29th for his 10th goal in the competition, only for substitute Ibai Gomez to level in the 39th.
Spanish veteran Raul Gonzalez put the Germans ahead again in the 52nd with an 18m drive, but the undeterred hosts answered swiftly three minutes later from Markel Susaeta’s low shot from inside the area.
“We did all we could today and played well. But we lost the tie at home a week ago,” said Huntelaar.
Coing off a last 16 elimination of Manchester City, Sporting seemed in control of the tie in Kharkiv when Dutchman Ricky van Wolfswinkel headed them 1-0 ahead on the stroke of half-time.
But Cristaldo levelled for Kharkiv in the 57th and Xavier had the opportunity to force extra-time, but his weak penalty was saved by Patricio and Sporting hung on to go through.