Sat, Mar 15, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Fiorentina hold Juventus, while Benfica sink Spurs

Reuters, LONDON

SL Benfica’s Rodrigo, center, scores against Tottenham Hotspur in their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 first leg at White Hart Lane in London on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Mario Gomez dusted off his shooting boots to put ACF Fiorentina in the driving seat with a 1-1 UEFA Europa League draw at Juventus, while SL Benfica were too good for Tottenham Hotspur, winning their round-of-16 first leg 3-1 away on Thursday.

Germany international striker Gomez had not scored since returning last month after five months out with a knee injury ,but he tilted the tie in his team’s favor with a 79th-minute strike, while Real Betis Balompie tore up the form book to win 2-0 at local rivals Sevilla.

Twice winners Porto beat SSC Napoli 1-0 thanks to Jackson Martinez’s superb finish and Helton’s agile goalkeeping, while Valencia played for more than an hour with 10 men, but still beat PFC Ludogorets Razgrad 3-0 in Bulgaria.

However, the goals dried up for the previous round’s big scorers Red Bull Salzburg, who were held to a 0-0 draw at Basel, ending a run of 14 successive wins in all competitions.

Juventus’ clash with Fiorentina was a replay of the 1989-1990 UEFA Cup final and came four days after the two sides met in Serie A.

Juventus, three places and 27 points clear of their domestic rivals, won 1-0 on Sunday and they took the lead after three minutes when the ball fell kindly at the feet of Arturo Vidal and he dispatched it powerfully into the net.

Yet their failure to kill off the tie gave hope to Fiorentina, who grew in confidence and eventually punished their hosts late on.

Gomez, who tore ligaments in his right knee in September last year, came off the bench in the 67th minute and made a decisive impact, controlling a lofted pass, before shooting through the legs of Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Tottenham were hosting Benfica for the first time since they met in the European Cup semi-final in 1961-1962.

Benfica, who are seven points clear at the top of the Portuguese championship, won that tie and were thoroughly on top when they went ahead after 30 minutes.

Rodrigo raced onto a terrific through-ball from Ruben Amorim and picked his spot, curling his finish with his instep into the far corner.

Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood told his squad they were playing for their futures after their 4-0 Premier League defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, but the present looked bleak when Luisao headed home unmarked after 58 minutes.

Christian Eriksen curled in a free-kick to reduce the deficit, but Luisao struck again, pouncing on a rebound to shoot into the roof of the net from close range.

However, Spurs defender Younes Kaboul refused to throw in the towel.

“Everything is possible in football,” Kaboul told ITV. “We will go there to win and see what happens.”

The first Seville derby in Europe did not go according to the script as Sevilla, seventh in La Liga, suffered a shock home reverse against their struggling rivals who are bottom of the Spanish league.

Betis took the lead when Baptistao powered a header into the roof of the net after 15 minutes and Salvador Sevilla put the result beyond doubt in the 77th minute when he drove the ball into the far corner.

Porto’s preparations for their tie against Napoli were undermined when they parted company with coach Paulo Fonseca on Wednesday last week, but they still looked a well-drilled unit against Rafael Benitez’s tactically-wily Italian side.

The Portuguese team survived an early second-half onslaught from Napoli thanks to the lithe reflexes of goalkeeper Helton, who kept out a drilled shot on the turn from Gonzalo Higuain and blocked Raul Albiol’s header from close range.

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