The much-maligned Europa League threw up a bumper mix of goals, controversy and defensive blunders on Thursday as Chelsea, SL Benfica and Fenerbahce won by two-goal margins at home and Basel held Tottenham Hotspur.
Hosts Tottenham, the only former winners still in the competition, were at times outplayed by Switzerland’s Basel, the only domestic champions in the last eight, but scrambled a 2-2 draw in their quarter-final first leg where Gareth Bale went off injured.
Fenerbahce scored two late goals, the first a highly debatable penalty, in a 2-0 win over SS Lazio, who played nearly the whole of the second half with 10 men.
Two goals from under-pressure Fernando Torres gave European champions Chelsea a 3-1 win at home to Russia’s Rubin Kazan, while Benfica won by the same score in Lisbon against blunder-prone Newcastle United, who twice hit the post.
“Fernando needed to score a goal,” Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez told reporters. “We could see today the confidence, we could see he can work hard ... He will score goals until the end of the season.”
Lazio, who must overturn their first-leg deficit behind closed doors in Rome next Thursday, had the better of the first half, but were soon in trouble when Ogenyi Onazi was sent off for a second bookable offense straight after the restart.
Raul Meireles hit the post as Fenerbahce took control, but they needed a soft penalty, awarded after the ball hit Stefan Radu’s raised arm and converted by Cameroon’s Pierre Webo, to break through in the 78th minute.
Dutchman Dirk Kuyt added the second in stoppage-time after Federico Marchetti could not hold Mehmet Topuz’s long-range free-kick.
Basel, who last season knocked Manchester United out of the UEFA Champions League, stunned White Hart Lane when Valentin Stocker and Fabian Frei scored within a four-minute first-half spell.
Emmanuel Adebayor pulled one back before the break for Tottenham, twice winners of the old UEFA Cup, and substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson leveled with a deflected shot just after the hour.
Basel continued to dominate either side of his goal and could easily have snatched a shock win.
Newcastle appeared to have the upper hand in Lisbon when Papiss Cisse tapped in a pinpoint cross from French midfielder Moussa Sissoko after 12 minutes and the Senegalese striker also had a shot turned on to the post by goalkeeper Arthur.
Instead, Benfica leveled when Oscar Cardozo’s thumping shot was parried by Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul, the defense was slow to react and Spanish striker Rodrigo pounced to equalize.
Cisse chipped another shot against the post on the counterattack early in the second half, before Benfica were gifted the lead in the 65th minute.
Davide Santon’s poor back-pass was intercepted by Lima, and the Brazilian dribbled past Krul and easily slid the ball in.
It got worse for Newcastle when Steven Taylor handled in the area and Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo added a third from the spot two minutes later.
“Luck doesn’t just appear from nowhere, you conquer it with work,” Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said. “The Newcastle goalkeeper stopped three or four certain goals. I didn’t know him by name, but he is a great goalkeeper. The game had everything — excitement, goals, balls hitting the woodwork and missed chances.”
Chelsea, who parachuted into the competition after being eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League, raced to a 2-0 lead in 32 minutes through Spaniard Torres and Nigerian Victor Moses.
Rubin, conquerors of titleholders Atletico Madrid earlier in the competition, grabbed an away goal in the 41st minute when Israeli midfielder Bebras Natcho scored from the penalty spot after John Terry had blocked a shot by Cristian Ansaldi with his arm.
Torres gave Chelsea breathing space when he met a cross from fellow Spaniard Juan Mata with an emphatic header in the 70th minute.
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