What the Europa League lacks in glamor, it more than made up for in late drama on Thursday.
Liverpool reached the semi-finals through a stoppage-time winner, while Sevilla’s pursuit of a hat-trick of titles was kept alive with a shootout success.
Shakhtar Donetsk and Villarreal joined Liverpool in scoring four goals in their quarter-final, second-leg wins, but the Premier League club needed every one of them to complete an exhilarating 4-3 comeback against Borussia Dortmund.
“I can’t explain,” Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said. “It was not logical.”
Liverpool were facing elimination on away goals until Dejan Lovren’s header earned a 5-4 aggregate win on an epic Anfield night to give manager Juergen Klopp a victory to savor against his former club.
“We never stopped believing in ourselves,” Lovren said. “We said at halftime we had nothing to lose, we just had to believe. It was a great effort from everyone.”
Not only can Klopp’s first season in charge of Liverpool still end in silverware, but lifting the cup would secure Champions League qualification.
Sevilla are also relying on winning the Europa League to return to the continent’s elite competition, unlike Shakhtar Donetsk and Villarreal, who are better placed to qualify through their domestic league positions.
Shakhtar Donetsk reached a European semi-final for only the second time by crushing Sporting Braga 4-0 to advance 6-1 on aggregate. Villarreal were in yesterday’s draw after winning at Sparta Prague 4-2 to go through 6-3 on aggregate.
The tables were turned on Sevilla after winning 2-1 against Athletic Bilbao last week, with their Spain-based rival winning the return leg 2-1 to force the game into extra time and a shootout. Sevilla scored all five penalties to win 5-4.
Liverpool had the edge going into the second leg after drawing 1-1 in Germany, but threw that advantage away in the opening nine minutes as the hosts were ripped apart, with the talent of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang proving too hot to handle.
In the fifth minute, Philippe Coutinho conceded possession deep inside opposition territory and the visitors launched a rapid counterattack. Aubameyang’s shot was parried by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, but Mkhitaryan followed with the opener.
Four minutes later, again the ball was given away, this time by Divock Origi, who was preferred up front in favor of Daniel Sturridge. Liverpool’s sloppiness was countered by Dortmund’s precision, with Marco Reus sending a crossfield pass to Aubameyang, who sent the ball high into the net.
It seemed game over. Liverpool had other ideas.
“At halftime, the coach said we had to create the moment where we could tell our grandchildren, our children about, make a special night for the fans,” Origi said. “We believed.”
The fightback began 150 seconds into the second half, when Emre Can slipped the ball through for Origi to slot into the bottom corner of the net.
Dortmund restored their two-goal advantage when Mat Hummels’ defense-splitting pass reached Reus, who finished coolly.
Liverpool were not giving up hopes of progressing, with Philippe Coutinho netting in the 66th after being played in by James Milner. Coutinho turned creator 11 minutes later in an engrossing second half, whipping in the corner that Sakho headed in. And a minute into stoppage-time, another Liverpool defender — Lovren — found the target again with his head.
“That’s what European football can be at its best,” Klopp said. “It was a wonderful experience and it’s hard to believe it really happened.”
A night that ended with Liverpool fans delirious started on a somber note at Anfield. A mosaic was held up in the Kop to read “96” and a minute’s silence was held to mark the eve of the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster when 96 Liverpool supporters were killed at an FA Cup semi-final.
Yesterday’s memorial inside the ground came as a jury at fresh inquests into the deaths was still considering verdicts.
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