March 21, 2014 3:54:28 pm
Andrea Pirlo kept Juventus on course for a home Europa League final after his superb free kick settled their battle with Italian rivals Fiorentina to send the Serie A leaders into the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Pirlo’s dead-ball accuracy after 71 minutes, which saw him caress the ball high into the far right corner of the net, handed Juve a 1-0 win in Florence and a 2-1 aggregate success over a Fiore side who finished with 10 men.
Juve were joined in the last eight by last season’s beaten finalists Benfica, Porto, Valencia, Sevilla, Olympique Lyon, FC Basel and AZ Alkmaar.
Benfica survived a spirited fightback by Tottenham Hotspur to earn a 2-2 second-leg draw in Lisbon and go through 5-3 on aggregate while 2011 winners Porto, who sacked coach Paulo Fonseca this month, drew 2-2 at Napoli to win 3-2 on aggregate.
Sevilla overcame city rivals Real Betis 4-3 on penalties, after a 2-2 aggregate draw, while 10-man Basel ended the impressive campaign of Austria’s Salzburg although their 2-1 away win, after a goalless first leg, was marred by a first-half interruption when Swiss fans threw objects on to the pitch.
This season’s final will be held at the Juventus stadium in Turin on May 14, which was a huge incentive for the Italian league title holders, but Antonio Conte’s side needed something special from talisman Pirlo to stay in the competition.
Needing to score after Fiore grabbed an away goal in a 1-1 first-leg draw, Juve were struggling for inspiration at the Stadio Artemio Franchi until Gonzalo Rodriguez was sent off for tripping Fernando Llorente to leave Pirlo with a sight of goal.
The Italy playmaker did not let runaway Serie A leaders Juve down, stroking a superb strike past Neto’s outstretched hand.
“We knew that we were going to have to fight for it, and Andrea’s goal was the crowning glory of a great performance,” said Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci.
Benfica, who were 3-1 up from an impressive first-leg win in London, appeared to be cruising through after Ezequiel Garay’s first-half header but injury-hit Spurs rallied.
Visiting Belgium winger Nacer Chadli’s quickfire double, a low shot and then a close range finish, left Tottenham a goal away from forcing extra time with 11 minutes left.
The Premier League side had a strong penalty appeal turned down and then in stoppage time Benfica keeper Jan Obrak made a fine save to keep out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s header.
The Portuguese then won a penalty in the final seconds, which Lima converted to secure a 2-2 draw and extend Benfica’s unbeaten run at home in European competition to 11 games.
Porto ended Napoli manager Rafael Benitez’s hopes of leading a side to a second successive final after the Spaniard triumphed in the competition with Chelsea last season.
Napoli had looked the more likely to progress after Goran Pandev’s 21st-minute goal cancelled out Porto’s 1-0 first-leg win but the Portuguese side stunned the hosts after the break.
Fine strikes from Algerian substitute Nabil Ghilas and Ricardo Quaresma put Porto 2-1 up with a stoppage-time equaliser from Duvan Zapata proving scant consolation for Napoli.
Sevilla piled on the misery for Real Betis after booking a place in the last eight by winning a tense penalty shootout after goals from Jose Antonio Reyes and Carlos Bacca saw the visitors wipe out a 2-0 first-leg home deficit.
Betis, who are bottom of La Liga and nine points adrift of the safety zone, had the upper hand in the shootout but successive misses by Cedrick Mabwati and Nono condemned the green half of the city to a heart-breaking defeat.
Lyon eased through 5-3 against Viktoria Plzen despite a 2-1 second-leg defeat in the Czech Republic, while a second-half goal from Paco Alcacer earned Valencia a 1-0 win at home to Bulgaria’s Ludogorets for a comfortable 4-0 aggregate success.
Dutchman Dick Advocaat, who guided Zenit St Petersburg to the 2008 UEFA Cup title, took AZ Alkmaar into the last eight with a goalless draw against Anzhi Makhachkala in Ramenskoye.
Anzhi, propping up the Russian Premier League with one win in 21 games, failed to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit. Their frustrations boiled over in stoppage time when Karlen Mkrtchyan was shown a red card for a challenge on Steven Berghuis.
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