Europa League is still headed to Turin next month, but after today’s result at Juventus Stadium, the team which normally occupies the final’s venue will not be there. Failing to turn around the 2-1 loss it suffered last week in Lisbon, Serie A-leading Juventus was eliminated from the competition , the 0-0 road draw Benfica earned in Italy putting last year’s runners-up into their second straight final.
The Eagles will be joined in May 14th’s final by Sevilla, who nearly squandered the 2-0 lead it earned last week at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Down 3-0 at Valencia in stoppage time, the Rojiblancos got a 94th minute goal from Stephanie Mbia, leaving a fervent crowd at the Estadio Mestalla heartbroken as the 3-1 loss (3-3, agg.) put the visitors through on away goals.
For Sevilla, back-to-back UEFA Cup winners in 2006-2007, it is the club’s third tournament final appearance. Benfica, two-time European Cup winners, have appeared in two previous finals but have yet to claim a UEFA Cup or Europa League crown.
In Italy, a game dominated by the Old Lady saw the hosts hold 63 percent of the match’s possession, outshooting Portugal’s champions 19-4 in the process. Putting seven shots on target to Benfica’s one, Juventus took advantage of an Eagles side intent on preserving the one-goal lead they carried out of the Estadio da Luz. Despite a penalty shout and a late Pablo Osvaldo goal that was waved off for offsides, Jorge Jesus’s team was able to preserve its clean sheet, playing the last minutes of the game with nine-men (Lazar Markovic red card; Ezequiel Garay injury).
In Valencia, whatever notion the visiting team had of keeping its hosts off mimicking Benfica’s road shutout evaporated in the 14th minute, with Algerian international Sofiane Feghouli scoring from the right of goal to pull Los Che within one. Twelve minutes later, a shot off the crossbar went off Sevilla goalkeeper Beto before crossing the goal line, leaving the sides even with 64 minutes to play.
Twenty minutes before time, Valencia appeared to have struck a decisive blow when Jeremy Mathieu finished from just outside the six-yard box. But the go ahead goal only served to prime 24 minutes of heightened expectations. Heading home from the middle of the area after a late corner, Mbia sent the crowd to murmurs, turning what had been a terrible night at the Mestalla into a semifinal triumph.
The result means Iberia will be invading Turin on May 14th, with Benfica looking to avenge last year’s final loss. Sevilla, meanwhile, will be looking to make Mbia’s goal into legend by winning its third title.