March 15, 2014 2:01:00 am
Mario Gomez dusted off his shooting boots to put Fiorentina in the driving seat with a 1-1 Europa League draw at Juventus while Benfica were too good for Tottenham Hotspur, winning their last-16 first leg 3-1 away on Thursday.
Gomez had not scored since returning in February after five months out with a knee injury but tilted the tie in his team’s favour with a 79th-minute strike while Real Betis tore up the form book to win 2-0 at local rivals Sevilla.
Twice winners Porto beat Napoli 1-0 thanks to Jackson Martinez’s superb finish and Helton’s agile goalkeeping. Valencia played for more than an hour with 10 men but still beat Ludogorets 3-0 in Bulgaria.
The goals, however, dried up for Salzburg who were held to a 0-0 draw at Basel, ending a run of 14 successive wins in all competitions.
Juventus’s clash with Fiorentina 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 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 from 10 metres.
Gomez came off the bench in the 67th minute and made a decisive impact, controlling a lofted pass before shooting through the legs of Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Tottenham were hosting Benfica for the first time since they met in the European Cup semi-final in 1962. Benfica won that tie and were thoroughly on top when they went ahead after 30 minutes. Rodrigo raced onto a throughball from Ruben Amorim and picked his spot, curling his finish with his in-step into the far corner.
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.
Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul refused to throw in the towel however. “Everything is possible in football,” he 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 suffered a shock home reverse against struggling rivals who are bottom of the La Liga.
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 of the net.
Porto’s preparations for their tie against Napoli were undermined when they parted company with coach Paulo Fonseca last Wednesday, but they still looked a well-drilled unit against Rafa Benitez’s side.
The Portuguese team survived an early second-half onslaught from Napoli thanks to the lithe reflexes of keeper Helton, who kept out a drilled shot on the turn from Gonzalo Higuain and blocked Raul Albiol’s header from close range.Minutes later they went ahead when Martinez showed a fine scorer’s instinct to drop off his marker at the far post and rifle a volley into the net from 15 metres.
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