Sevilla's road to Warsaw must go through Russia

AFP , Thursday 23 Apr 2015

Sevilla's Carlos Bacca (L) celebrates with Timothee Kolodziejczac after scoring against Zenit St. Petersburg during their Europa League quarter final, first leg soccer match at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville April 16, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Sevilla put their Europa League crown on the line on Thursday with a treacherous trip to Zenit St Petersburg, while two of the other quarter-finals remain on a knife-edge but Napoli are all but qualified after routing Wolfsburg last week.

Sevilla often save their best football for Europe's second-tier competition, having lifted the trophy in 2006 and 2007, as well as last year when they defeated Benfica on penalities.

They carry a 2-1 first leg lead into their 4,500km trek to the Baltic after late goals from Carlos Bacca and Denis Suarez overturned a first-half opener from Zenit's Alexander Ryazantsev.

But coach Andre Villas-Boas expects the home crowd and his league leaders to make it a difficult night for their visitors.

"What can really help us is the support of the stadium," said the former Tottenham handler.

"The atmosphere that the fans are going to create can really encourage the team." added the 37-year-old Portuguese coach, who won the competition with Porto, when they beat Braga 1-0 in 2011.

Zenit, who became the first Russian team to win the competition when they defeated Rangers 2-0 in 2008, will be boosted by the return of captain Miguel Danny, star striker Hulk as well as defenders Domenico Criscito and Igor Smolnikov, who all sat out the match in Spain through suspension.

On the down side, Ryazantsev is now suspended as is Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay after both picked up first-leg bookings.

"We have to score," said Ryazantsev. "Sevilla showed that they're really dangerous on the counter-attacks but I think that in St Petersburg they will play a little bit different football.

"Zenit will also change their style. We will have to attack but we can't forget about defending. We have to be very careful."

Bacca, who grabbed the all-important equaliser in the first match, feels Sevilla's love for the competition could have a bearing on the outcome.


"With Sevilla having won it three times, there is a lot of excitement about playing in this tournament," he told

"But we don't want to just play in it -- we want to become champions. It's not easy, we know that, but the Europa League is a competition that Sevilla and the Sevilla fans like a lot."

Fiorentina, the 1990 finalists, picked up a priceless injury-time equaliser in their first-leg tie to earn a 1-1 draw against Dynamo Kiev.

The Italians, sixth in Serie A, will be hoping the match doesn't go to penalities after they missed their fourth straight spot-kick of the season on Monday in the 1-0 home defeat to Verona.

No team in the top five European leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France) have ever set such an unwanted record.

Rafa Benitez's Napoli are firmly on track for the semi-finals after a brace from captain Marek Hamsik paved the way for a surprise 4-1 win over Bundesliga side Wolfsburg in Germany.

Benitez is chasing a third trophy in the competition, with his third different club, after guiding Valencia (2004) and Chelsea (2013) to victory.

The latter, clinched with a 2-1 win over Benfica in the final in Amsterdam, was one of his final matches in charge of the Londoners, and he faces a similar scenario this season with expectations high that he will leave in the summer even if Napoli lift the trophy.

Belgian outsiders Club Brugge, seeking their first European trophy, forced a 0-0 draw at home to Dnipro of Ukraine in their first leg.

Brugge are the only unbeaten team left in the tournament, having won 11 and drawn four, while Dnipro have tasted defeat four times, although they have won their last three home matches without conceding a goal.

Dnipro have never gone past the quarter-finals of a European competition while Brugge's best continental showing was reaching the 1992 Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals when they went out at the hands of Werder Bremen.

The semi-final draw takes place on Friday with the final scheduled for Warsaw on May 27.

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