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Alcacer inspires brilliant Valencia comeback as Pirlo helps Juve into final four

The Europa League semi-final line-up was completed tonight.

ITALIAN CHAMPIONS JUVENTUS  proved too strong for a spirited Lyon in the Europa League quarter-finals tonight while Sevilla and last season’s runners-up Benfica also clinched their places in the last four.

Juve’s main focus is on retaining the Serie A title, but Antonio Conte’s side are also desperate to reach a Europa League final that will be played in their own stadium in Turin on May 14, and a 2-1 win against Lyon  took them into the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate.

Benfica, who suffered an agonising 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in last season’s final in Amsterdam, beat Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 2-0 to go through 3-0 on aggregate, while Sevilla recovered from a 1-0 first-leg defeat away to Porto, beating the Portuguese side 4-1 in the return at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

Unbeaten at home this season and leading 1-0 from last week’s first leg in France, Juve got off to a superb start at a packed Juventus Stadium as veteran Andrea Pirlo curled home a typically brilliant free-kick inside four minutes.

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Lyon, who were missing a host of key players due to injury, showed great spirit to level the scores on the night when Jimmy Briand headed in off a post in the 18th minute, and suddenly OL knew that one goal would be enough to take them through.

However, with former Juve player and coach, and current France boss, Didier Deschamps, watching on from the stands, Carlos Tevez had a headed effort disallowed for offside just after the hour mark before a Claudio Marchisio strike that took a huge deflection off Samuel Umtiti wrong-footed Anthony Lopes in goal and effectively ended Lyon’s dreams.

Basel brushed aside

Valencia beating Swiss side Basel 5-0 after extra time at the Mestalla thanks to a hat-trick from Paco Alcacer.

Spain Soccer Europa League Source: AP/Press Association Images

The Spanish side cancelled out Basel’s 3-0 lead from first leg with Alcacer hitting the net either side of an Eduardo Vargas header in normal time.

Source: UEFA/YouTube

After the tie ended level on aggregate with no away goals after two sets of 90 minutes, Alcacer completed his hat-trick to send the Mestalla into raptures in the 114th minute and the turnaround was guaranteed by Juan Bernal two minutes before the final whistle.

Porto collapse

Having fallen just short in the Portuguese league and Cup as well as the Europa League 12 months ago, Benfica are still on course to win all three competitions this time around.

Seven points clear in their domestic league with four games to go and through to the last four of the Portuguese Cup, Benfica are also into the last four in the Europa League after Spanish striker Rodrigo bagged a brace at the Estadio da Luz to clinch a comfortable aggregate win against AZ.

Benfica’s bitter rivals Porto are out, though, after a first-half collapse in southern Spain.

An early Ivan Rakitic penalty levelled the scores on aggregate and further goals by Vitolo and Colombian striker Carlos Bacca had Sevilla – UEFA Cup winners in 2006 and 2007 – 3-0 up on the night.

The sending-off of Coke early in the second half had little impact on the home side, and substitute Kevin Gameiro got their fourth goal late on.

There was still time for Ricardo Quaresma to pull a goal back for the visitors, but Porto exit the competition in the same city where they won the UEFA Cup in 2003 by beating Celtic.

- © AFP, 2014

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