Thursday’s Field of Play: Europa and Copa

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Two under-appreciated competitions get the stage to themselves on Thursday, though most may see this as an opportunity to reload before the weekend.

Don’t. Particularly in Europa, there are a number of great match ups, and while the same can’t exactly be said about Libertadores, the stakes are reasonably high in Argentina, where control of Group 4’s second knockout round spot is on the line.

Europa League

Quarterfinals start on Thursday, and while all four match ups are intriguing in their own right, one jumps out as a “wow, couldn’t that one have waited until the final?”

  • Athletic Bilbao is a favorite of many for their … unique … policy of signing only players with Basque heritage. Oh, and they also happen to have players like Iker Muniain, Fernando Llorente, and JavI Martinez and are coached by not-longer-just-cult hero Marcelo “El Loco” Bielsa. They’ll take on one of the worlds 12-15 biggest clubs: Schalke 04. Had this meeting taken place May in Bucharest, nobody would have complained. (3:05 p.m. ET kick off)
  • Another Primera team, Valencia, is in Alkmaar to face Jozy Altidore and AZ. Though they’re still technically third in Spain, Valenica have lost successive games to Real Zaragoza and Getafe, allowing Malaga to pull even on points. AZ’s only been slightly better, winning just one of their last three. (3:05 p.m. ET)
  • Once our greatest hope to break up Ukraine’s Shakhtar-Dynamo duopoly, Metalist has faded and are now seven points behind  second place Shakhtar, having lost this weekend to Arsenal Kyiv. As a result, their best chance for a trophy may be Europa, where they continue their road to Romania against Sporting Club in Lisbon. (3:05 p.m. ET)
  • And in Madrid, Radamel Falcao is still on track to re-claim Europa League (having won it last year with Porto) as Atlético Madrid host Steve Cherundolo and Hannover. Both sides sit eighth in their domestic leagues – just outside of Europe – and are coming off 2-1, road losses this weekend. Hannover, however, can hold their head a bit higher, having lost to Bayern Munich. Atlético stumbled at relegation-embattled Zaragoza. (3:05 p.m. ET)

Copa Libertadores

  • Fluminense looks to keep their perfect group record, traveling to Venezuela to face Zamora. They’re the last club in the tournament with a  100 percent mark and will lock up a place in the next round with a win. Zamora’s the only club in the tournament yet to score a goal. (9:00 p.m. ET)
  • Boca Juniors and Arsenal de Sarandi, sitting second and third in Flu’s group, meet at the Bombonera, the winning club maintaining control of their knock out round destiny. Two weeks ago, Boca overcame an early own goal to claim a 2-1 win at Arsenal. Most expect them to have an easier time of it on Thursday. (6:45 p.m. ET)