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Juventus completes a two-leg victory over Lyon in the Europa League quarterfinals
It's Juventus' first European semifinal since 2003 in the Champions League
Valencia makes history as it rallies to overcome Basel 5-3 on aggregate
Sevilla and 2013 finalist Benfica also advance to the last four in the competition
There was a time when Italian teams dominated European football’s second-tier competition, winning the UEFA Cup in six of seven seasons starting in the late 1980s. But the last Italian outfit to win the event, now the Europa League, was Parma in 1999.
No one would bet against Juventus ending the drought this campaign and how sweet it would be for the Turin giant since the final will be held at Juventus’ own stadium.
The runaway leader in Serie A, Juventus reached the semifinals Thursday after beating Lyon 2-1 in Turin and 3-1 on aggregate.
For the ‘Old Lady’ of Italian football, it marked a first European semifinal since the club lost the Champions League final to AC Milan in 2003 – before the ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal that resulted in Juventus being stripped of two Serie A titles and demoted.
Juventus was joined in the last four by Valencia – which made history in overturning a 3-0 first-leg deficit against Basel – Sevilla and 2013 finalist Benfica.
“This season, even though the competition is different, we are still having an important journey in Europe,” Juve manager Antonio Conte, whose men were ousted in the Champions League last fall, was quoted as saying by the Football Italia website. “Juventus hadn’t reached this phase in Europe for 10 years.
“We’ve got to keep our feet on the ground and not forget three years ago this team wasn’t even in the Europa League.
“We have won a great deal over the last two years and are protagonists this season, too. The fans must stay close to the team for 90 minutes and I hope this can happen, so we never forget the past. We cared about reaching this objective and hope all of Italy can be happy with it.”
Andrea Pirlo struck early for Juventus before Jimmy Briand leveled in the first half as the visitor enjoyed a good spell. Samuel Umtiti’s own goal settled the affair in the 68th minute.
“It’s not that just because we are called Juventus we are greeted by a red carpet ushering us through to certain victory,” said Conte. “Anyone who thinks everything is easy just because we are Juventus is deeply wrong.”
Iberian teams have been the ones doing well lately in the Europa League, lifting the trophy in three of the four previous years, and Thursday’s results ensured at least one more Iberian side would feature in the May 14 finale.
No club had ever rallied from 3-0 down in a tie to advance since the Europa League was introduced but Paco Alcacer’s hat-trick inspired Valencia in its 5-0 extra-time victory. Basel had two men sent off in extra time.
Sevilla, the two-time UEFA Cup winner, trailed FC Porto 1-0 after the first leg but three goals in the first 30 minutes at home were enough to see off the 2011 champion.
Even a red card to Coke Andujar in the 54th minute wasn’t enough to help Porto, which fell 4-1 on the night.
Benfica, beaten by Chelsea last year in the final, got a double from Rodrigo to defeat AZ Alkmaar 2-0 Thursday and 3-0 on aggregate.
The semifinal draw takes place Friday.