Sunday, Mar 01, 2015

Juventus, Valencia look to hopeful homecomings

Benfica players train ahead of their Europa League semifinal match against Juventus in Turin on Thursday. (Reuters) Benfica players train ahead of their Europa League semifinal match against Juventus in Turin on Thursday. (Reuters)
By: Reuters | Turin | May 1, 2014 3:19 pm

Juventus and Benfica are both in defiant mood ahead of Thursday’s Europa League clash where a single goal for the Serie A side would take them to their first European final for 11 years.

Juventus coach Antonio Conte took another swipe at his critics after a 3-1 win at Sassuolo on Monday left his side needing one victory in three games to clinch a third successive Serie A title.

Benfica, who have wrapped up the Portuguese league and are on course for a domestic treble after two backs-to-the-wall cup semi-final wins over Porto, are also in feisty mood having bouncing back from last season’s disappointment when they finished runners-up in three competitions.

Benfica, sunk by a last-gasp Chelsea goal in last season’s final and beaten semi-finalists in 2010-11, take a 2-1 lead to Turin for the semi-final second leg.

Juventus will play the final at their own stadium if they qualify and Conte has taken exception to suggestions that the Europa League is a mere consolation after they were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage.

Benfica have shown great resilience this season, reaching both the Portuguese Cup and Portuguese League Cup finals with dramatic semi-final wins over rivals Porto after playing for an hour with 10 men in both games.

Juventus are unbeaten at home in Europe this season, but have kept only one clean sheet in those games, while Benfica have won their last four away fixtures in European competition.

Looking back

Valencia: Valencia will take inspiration from their comeback win over Basel in the last round of the Europa League as they bid to reach the final by overhauling a 2-0 first-leg loss to Sevilla.

Thursday’s match is Valencia’s last chance to turn round a disappointing season marred by financial problems, takeover bids and poor performances in which Miroslav Djukic was replaced as coach by Juan Antonio Pizzi in December. Defeat by Atletico Madrid on Sunday virtually ended their hopes of finishing in a European spot in La Liga, so they are banking on overcoming Sevilla at the Mestalla having achieved a spectacular comeback in the quarter-final against Basel.

The winners of the all-Spanish tie will face Juventus or Benfica in the final with the Portuguese side taking a 2-1 lead into the away leg.

“We know we can do it as we have already achieved it against Basel and we can do it once more against Sevilla,” Valencia forward Jonas said.

Valencia lost their first leg 3-0 in Switzerland but put five past Basel in the return leg. “It is a goal fewer but the rival is stronger and so it is going to be very difficult.”

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