Europa League final, preview: What to know about Benfica and Sevilla

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Benfica’s already had its redemption, having claimed the Portuguese league title, but Wednesday gives the Eagles a chance to put last spring even farther in the past. Not only will the mere chronology of the next 24 hours help, but there’s the potential to slay demons from last year’s Europa League final – a loss that came in the middle of a 16-day stretch that cost Benfica  league, Europa, and Portuguese Cup titles.

Defeat Sevilla in Wednesday’s Europa League final, and last year’s loss to Chelsea gets put in a different perspective. Instead of being part of a failed spring and a list of second place finishes on the European stage, the result looks like a springboard for this year’s success. The disappointments of 2013 will have fueled the successes of 2014.

For the Rojiblancos, it’s a chance to claim the competition for the third time (UEFA Cup wins in 2006, 2007). It’s a chance to earn the team’s first trophy since 2010. It’s a chance for manager Unai Emery move on from his failures at Spartak Moscow, and it’s a chance for a team that used to compete for Champions League spots to grasp some glory in these now, more austere times.

Kickoff for Turin is at 2:45 p.m. Eastern, when Benfica returns to the site of its semifinal triumph hoping to claim its season’s second title.

How they got here: After falling out Champions League (something teams won’t be allowed to do next season), Benfica beat PAOK (Greece), Tottenham (England), AZ (Netherlands) and Juventus (Italy) on its way to the final.

Sevilla, who only qualified because Rayo Vallecano and Malaga were excluded from Europe, defeated Maribor (Slovenia), rival Real Betis (Spain), Porto (Portugal) and Valencia (Spain) after going undefeated in group play.

Who to watch for: For Benfica, former Sporting Braga striker Lima leads the way with four goals in knockout round play, though he’s only made two starts. Former Bolton attacker Rodrigo has scored three times, while Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo remains a threat, though he hasn’t scored in a month.

Emery’s dangermen are former PSG attacker Kevin Gameiro and Colombian World Cup hopeful Carlos Bacca have combined for nine goals in the competition, though Stephane Mbia’s stoppage time score against Valencia in the semifinals is Sevilla’s most memorable strike of the tournament.

Other players to know: Benfica’s defense features former Brazilian international Luisao along with Uruguyan fullback Maxi Pereira and Argentina center back Ezequiel Garay, both of whom you will see this summer. Ruben Amorim and Andre Gomes will hold down the midfield, with Nicolas Gaitan running wide of Cardozo up top.

For Sevilla, the attacking midfield of Diego Reyes, Ivan Rakitic, and Diego Perotti in support of Bacca present that danger. Mbia will destroy in midfield, while Argentinine Federico Fazio will lead the defense.

Forecast: Having knockout out Juventus, Benfica’s established themselves as favorites. We’ll see if the lessons of 2013 can be applied in 2014.

 

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.

Arsenal gets AC Milan in Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal’s path to the UEFA Champions League just got a whole lot tougher.

[ MORE: Arsenal loses 2nd leg, advances ]

Already eight points back of the Premier League’s Top Four, the Gunners have drawn Gennaro Gattuso’s AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The first leg is March 8 at the San Siro before moving to the Emirates a week later.

Milan is currently 7th in Serie A despite its big-spending summer, and faces a similar problem to the Gunners; Gattuso’s men need to make up eight points on Lazio and seven on fifth-place Inter Milan.

Elsewhere, Moscovian sides CSKA and Lokomotiv got no favors with trips to Lyon and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund will be pleased to see Red Bull Salzburg, while the latter’s sister club, RB Leipzig, was held apart from it by a draw with Zenit Saint-Petersbug.

Here’s the draw in full.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16
Lazio vs. Dynamo Kiev
RB Leipzig vs. Zenit St Petersburg
Atletico Madrid vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
CSKA Moscow vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao
Sporting Lisbon vs. Viktoria Plzen
Borussia Dortmund vs. Red Bull Salzburg
AC Milan vs. Arsenal

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

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After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.

Villarreal DF Semedo charged with attempted murder

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish judge has charged Villarreal defender Ruben Semedo with attempted murder and ordered him to be temporarily detained without bail.

Court officials in Lliria say on Thursday the Portuguese player is also charged with assault, robbery, illegal detention, and illegal possession of firearms.

Semedo testified before a judge on Thursday, and left the court in handcuffs.

The 23-year-old Semedo was detained early Tuesday, accused of tying up, assaulting and threatening another man last week. Authorities say he and two other men allegedly held the victim captive while they robbed his apartment.

Semedo’s agents told Spanish media the player denies any wrongdoing.

Villarreal on Tuesday said it was investigating Semedo and would take appropriate disciplinary action.

Villarreal signed Semedo from Sporting Lisbon last summer for a reported fee of $17 million.