Sat, Apr 26, 2014 - Page 18 News List

SL Benfica, Sevilla grab first-leg leads

FIGHTBACK:Juventus and Valencia have it all to do in the second legs next week, but the Spanish side can take heart from their quarter-final comeback from a 3-0 defeat

AFP, PARIS

Carlos Tevez of Juventus, front right, vies for the ball with SL Benfica goalkeeper Artur, front left, in their UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg in Lisbon on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

SL Benfica and Sevilla grabbed vital first-leg leads in their UEFA Europa League semi-final clashes on Thursday, leaving Juventus and Valencia to try and claw back deficits next week.

Brazilian striker Lima struck a wonder goal with six minutes remaining as Benfica edged Juventus 2-1 in Lisbon, while Sevilla hit two first-half goals to see off La Liga rivals Valencia 2-0.

After Carlos Tevez tucked away a brilliant equalizer for Serie A leaders Juventus with 17 minutes remaining at the Estadio da Luz, Lima smashed home an unstoppable drive to give the Lisbon outfit a precious advantage.

“It’s a shame, as at that moment we were pushing for our second goal. We fell asleep at the back,” Juventus coach Antonio Conte said.

Juve must now score at home on Thursday next week to keep their bid on track to reach the final at their home stadium on May 14.

Benfica, crowned Portuguese champions for the 33rd time last weekend, grabbed the lead after just three minutes when they forced a corner down the left.

The ball was swung into the heart of the penalty area and Argentine central defender Ezequiel Garay was quickest to react, holding off his marker to plant a sharp header past the despairing grasp of veteran Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Jorge Jesus’ well-organized Benfica unit threatened to increase their advantage and a series of counterattacks led to a clean chance that Serbia international Lazar Markovic failed to convert just before the break.

The second half was equally rich in entertainment, with the Portuguese side, who were beaten finalists last year against Chelsea, ready to soak up Italian pressure and then strike on the break, but it was Argentine veteran Tevez who grabbed the all-important away goal.

A mazy run inside the penalty area allowed the 30-year-old space to slip the ball under Artur’s flailing legs.

Then with time running out, Lima fired home his thunderbolt to put the Portuguese side back in charge and set up a tantalizing second leg.

Sevilla, the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 champions, took a huge step toward reaching the final as they beat Valencia 2-0 at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

The hosts went ahead in controversial circumstances when Stephane Mbia back-heeled the ball into the roof of the net, despite clearly being in an offside position, before Carlos Bacca doubled Sevilla’s advantage soon afterwards.

Valencia were thankful to goalkeeper Vicente Guaita for not falling further behind as he made fine saves from Federico Fazio and Bacca.

However, Los Che came within centimeters of a vital away goal three minutes from time when Eduardo Vargas’ header came crashing off the crossbar.

Sevilla went into the game in great form, having won 12 of their past 15 games in all competitions, and they started brightly.

Valencia were rightly aggrieved by the manner in which the opening goal came about on 33 minutes as Mbia was well offside when he latched onto Daniel Carrico’s flick-on from Ivan Rakitic’s free-kick at the back post and the Cameroonian adjusted his feet well to flick the ball past the helpless Guaita.

Three minutes later it was 2-0 as a lovely one-two between Vitolo and Bacca freed the Colombian to fire home his 21st goal of the season.

Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Valencia will have a mountain to climb on Thursday next week, but they can take inspiration from their quarter-final comeback against Basel when they overturned a 3-0 deficit with a stunning 5-0 win at home.

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