Europa League roundup: Basel with one foot in semis; Juve, Benfica, Porto in front

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Three cagey 1-0 matches marked the return of UEFA’s Europa League, with a lopsided result in Switzerland the most decisive contest of the competition’s first rounds. Playing in front of an empty stadium, however, FC Basel were unable to celebrate in front of their own fans, with discipline after an incident last round against Red Bull Salzburg forcing the Swiss champions to play in an empty St. Jacob Park.

Elsewhere, a late goal allowed Juventus to inch closer to a home final, Portugal’s leaders took a result out of Alkmaar, while FC Porto’s one-goal win saw a key player pick up a late red card.

Here’s how Thursday unfolded:

AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) 0-1 Benfica (Portugal)

A strong first half from the Dutch Cup winners was thwarted when Eduardo Salvio gave Benfica a lead three minutes after half time. Late chances for the hosts, including one for U.S. international Aron Jóhannsson, couldn’t pull back the valuable away goal, with Jorge Jesus’s side left to defend its one-goal lead next week in Lisbon.

Olympique Lyonnais (France) 0-1 Juventus (Italy)

Hoping to play this year’s final on home soil, Italy’s leaders saw an unexpected hero claim a one-goal win at Stade Gerland. Six minutes from time, defender Leonardo Bonucci swung a lackluster affair in the Bianconeri’s favor, firing home the rebound of a Paul Pogba shot to given the Old Lady a halftime lead.

FC Basel (Switerland) 3-0 Valencia (Spain)

While Valencia players insist their quarterfinal is not done, those words sounded obligatory in the face of two goals from Matias Delgado and late insurance from Valentine Stocker. Playing in front of a UEFA-ordered empty stadium, Basel took a huge step toward its second straight semifinal, with the club attempting to claim its first ever European honor.

Porto (Portugal) 1-0 Sevilla (Spain)

A distance third in its domestic league, Porto is hoping Europa League can salvage an otherwise disappointing season. Defender Eliaquim Mangala pushed the team in that direction with a 31st minute goal as the Dragons seemed on their way to a clear victory. But despite holding 58 percent of the ball and limiting Unai Emery’s team to two shots on target, the reigning Portuguese champions were held to one-goal, with Fernando’s late dismissal leaving them shorthanded for next week’s match at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

EFL Cup Tues. preview: Spurs-Reds, plenty of non-PL participants

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Sixteen teams remain in the battle to clinch the Premier League’s first European place of next season’s tournament, and we have some tremendous battles on tap for Tuesday and Wednesday in the EFL Cup (formerly the League Cup).

Today we focus on the 24 hours ahead of us, focusing on Tuesday’s five matches and allowing the Manchester Derby, West Ham-Chelsea, and Southampton-Sunderland to percolate a bit.

[ MORE: Finland’s “Leicester” gets it done ]

That’s not to say we don’t have a pair of giants dueling on Tuesday. Liverpool is three wins away from a return to the final, where the Reds fell in penalties last season. Standing in their way is Tottenham Hotspur, a deep squad which won’t have to worry much about a quick turnaround from Saturday.

That said, the Reds didn’t have to play at all last week, while this will be Spurs third match in a week. Spurs have been to the EFL Cup final thrice since 2008, and one of two teams (Chelsea) to make three finals this decade. Liverpool will start Simon Mignolet between the sticks.

The remaining four EFL Cup matches include at least one team outside the Premier League.

Arsenal will host USMNT midfielder Danny Williams and Reading.

— Hull City is off to Ashton Gate to face Bristol City.

— Newcastle United is leading the Championship, and will get a visit from Preston North End in the first of two matches between the two sides this week.

— Norwich City will pay a visit to Elland Road and Garry Monk‘s Leeds United.

FC Dallas gave injured Mauro Diaz a home champagne shower (video)

FRISCO, TX - APRIL 12:  Mauro Diaz #10 of the FC Dallas controls the ball against the Seattle Sounders FC on April 12, 2014 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images
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FC Dallas has two jewels of its triple crown all set, having claimed the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield.

One of the key reasons the club was able to sustain its pace this season was Mauro Diaz, 25, who shone even as Fabian Castillo shockingly left the club before the stretch run.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

A River Plate product, Diaz gave FCD seven goals and 15 assists over 32 appearances before tearing an achilles tendon last week.

Diaz underwent season-ending surgery, but his teammates made sure he was a part of the champagne celebration by heading to his very nice-looking house for an early morning visit.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]


VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

[ MORE: Full MLS Cup bracket ]

Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast