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.