UEFA Europa League Semi-Final 2nd leg Round-Up: Thursday 26th April 2012

 

 

By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor

 

 

It was a thrilling match as Bilbao progress to only the second European final in their history in a game filled with great football

Athletic Bilbao booked their place in the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid with a 3-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon at San Mames Stadium.

The Portuguese side had claimed a 2-1 victory in Lisbon a week ago, but goals from Markel Susaeta, Ibai Gomez and Fernando Llorente were enough to see Marcelo Bielsa's to progess, despite a Ricky Van Wolfswinkel goal. It was the Portuguese side which came out of the blocks quicker. A poorly cleared Matias Fernandez corner fell to Anderson Polga, who could only head the ball straight at Gorka Iraizoz when he should have done better. Soon after, the Chilean sent a free kick well over, from distance, but it was not long before the hosts sprung into action. Fernando Llorente brought the ball down well seconds after Fernandez's free kick, but when he finally wriggled free of Xandao, he failed to send a meaningful shot in. Marcelo Bielsa's side was starting to apply heavy pressure. Some fantastic footwork from Gomez fooled the Sporting backline, but the 22-year-old could only fire a shot straight at Rui Patricio. Soon, however, the breakthrough arrived. Llorente padded an Iker Muniain cross straight to Susaeta, who volleyed past Patricio to put his side in front. The Bilbao goal would have seen the hosts go through on away goals, but Sporting soon set about in pursuit of an equalizer. Diego Capel, the hero of the first leg, sent a deep cross to the far post, but Andre Martin could only send a header wide when he should have done far better. Soon afterwards, Iraizoz was called into action to palm away an Polga header after the Brazilian found himself on the end of Capel's corner.

Throughout Sporting's period of pressure, Athletic continued to fashion chances. Gomez had a header rightly ruled out for offside, before Llorente squeezed a volley goal-wards, forcing Patricio to palm the ball away with his fingertips. The equalizer finally came just before the break, though. Another corner proved to be the cause of confusion in the Bilbao defence, and Van Wolfswinkel capitalized by sending a left-footed volley into the bottom corner. However, the Dutchman's effort was not enough to ensure parity at the break. Llorente held up the ball fantastically once again, and slipped in Gomez, who slipped it past Patricio to level the tie. The frantic nature of the game continued when the two teams reemerged for the second half. Susaeta forced Patricio into a fantastic save with a speculative effort from the corner of the box, and Javi Martinez sent the resulting corner against the bar. At the other end, the woodwork soon turned into Athletic's savior. Emiliano Insua belted a ferocious free kick goal-wards, and a heavy deflection took the ball past Iraizoz, but onto the post. Soon, though, the match settled into a more steady rhythm. Muniain forced a decent save from Patricio with a tame header, before the Portuguese 'keeper had Insua to thank when he dropped an Ibai free kick, only for the Argentine to remove the danger, hacking the ball off the line. Finally, the Portuguese resistance was broken with just minutes remaining. Gomez sent a low ball across the face of goal, and Llorente stuck out a leg to prod the ball into the net, via the post. In the wake of the goal, Sporting sent the ball long in an effort to steal a place in the final, but it was to no avail as it was to be Bilbao's night. In addition, it was a fantastic performance from the English representatives out on the pitch, the officials, led by referee Martin Atkinson- in the middle for the first time since the FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham and Chelsea.


 

Atletico Madrid players surround Adrian who scored the goal which secured their place in the Bucharest final on 9th May 

Atletico Madrid reached their second Europa League final after a 1-0 win over Valencia in their semi-final second-leg encounter.

The capital outfit, who lifted the trophy in 2010, have progressed by a 5-2 aggregate scoreline thanks to a superb smash-and-grab display at Mestalla. Atletico were kept under severe pressure by Valencia for the best part of an hour, but a fantastic goal from Adrian calmed their nerves and set them on their way to victory. The only blot on their performance was a late red card to Tiago, who will now miss the final after his involvement in a fracas following a penalty appeal. Goals were definitely on the agenda for Valencia who, with a 4-2 deficit to overturn from the first-leg in the capital, set out their stall to attack right from the start. The hosts had plenty of possession inside the opposition half during the opening exchanges, but the lack of a final ball prevented them from really testing Thibaut Courtois inside the Atletico goal.

That all changed after 20 minutes, when a snap shot from Sofiane Feghouli was parried by the Belgian keeper after a nick off Jonas, who was also thwarted from the rebound. The Algerian had another go from distance moments later, but this time fizzed just over the bar. Diego Simeone’s side were barely able to get a kick, and were forced to keep all 11 men behind the ball as the pressure and tenacity from Valencia was relentless. Antonio Barragan twice was able to set up Roberto Soldado from the right flank, but both times the frontman failed to steer his effort on target. Valencia just kept coming. Sergio Canales, starting his first match in Europe since September, drilled an effort low towards the near post from the left, but Courtois was again able to spread himself well and save. But they were almost caught napping on the counter four minutes before the interval, as Arda Turan’s low cross was smothered by Diego Alves, inches away from the onrushing Falcao. Valencia continued with the same cutthroat intensity coming out of the break, but as in the first-half, they were unable to get anyone on the end of their frequent forays into the opposition penalty area. Atletico defended stoutly, and then, right on the hour mark, showed the hosts how it should be done. Diego clipped a perfectly-weighted ball over the top of the defence towards Adrian, who took it onto his chest before ripping an unstoppable half-volley past Alves for his 10th goal in the tournament. The Valencia keeper was called into action again to deny Falcao from close range as his side appeared completely floored by the Atletico goal that left them needing three of their own to qualify. To compound matters, Canales was carried from the field with what looked like a serious injury. Tempers flared with 10 minutes to go, as confusion following an apparent handball in the area saw both sets of players square up to each other. Simeone even rushed off the bench to calm the ruckus, which ended when Tiago was shown his marching orders by Slovenian referee Damir Skomina.

But their numerical deficit mattered little at this stage, and as a late Tino Costa effort was saved by Courtois, Valencia knew that their time was up. Atletico will now square off against fellow La Liga outfit Athletic Bilbao in the final in Bucharest on Wednesday 9th May, with a chance to regain the trophy they won in 2010 by beating Premier League side Fulham. Valencia meanwhile will need to regain their focus quickly, as they face a crucial trip to Malaga on the weekend in the battle for the third Champions League qualifying spot in La Liga.

Click here to see what happened in the first leg semi-final encounters

 

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