We’ve spent the last two days watching the brilliance that is the Champions League quarterfinals, and while the Europa League’s round of eight perhaps offers slightly less intrigue — OK, it’s a lot less — the soccer being played in Europe’s second-tier club competition is still equally brilliant.
Wolfsburg 1-4 Napoli
Wolfsburg, perhaps the darlings of this year’s Europa League thanks to Kevin De Bruyne’s standout performances since leaving Chelsea, but goodness did Napoli put a hurting on them at the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg.
The Neopaltians jumped all over Die Wolfe early on and never looked back. Gonazlo Higuain opened the scoring with 15 minutes on the clock, a quick-reflex finish past Diego Benaglio after chesting the ball down with a defender draped all over his back. Marek Hamsik doubled the lead eight minutes later when Higuain’s through ball cut the Wolfsburg defense in half and put the Slovak playmaker in on goal.
Jose Callejon pounced on a poor pass inside Wolfsburg’s defensive third and crossed for Hamsik at the top of the six-yard box, where he netted his second goal of the game with 25 minutes left in the game. It got even worse for Wolfsburg in the 76th minute, when Manolo Gabbiadini headed home from six yards out, making Napoli’s lead 4-0 on four away goals.
Nicklas Bendtner, who apparently “plays” for Wolfsburg now, grabbed a simple consolation goal when he turned home Ivan Perisic’s cross in the 80th minute, but with a three-goal deficit to erase in the away leg, Dieter Hecking’s side need at least four goals (and a clean sheet) to advance.
Sevilla 2-1 Zenit St. Petersburg
Aleksandr Ryazantsev gave the visitors the lead in the 29th minute when he slammed home Sergio Rico’s strong save of his first effort, but Ryazantsev’s powerful shot over the top of Rico was unstoppable from five yards away.
Carlos Bacca scored his 22nd goal of the season (all competitions), equalizing for Sevilla in the 73rd minute with a powerful header from three yards out, and Denis Suarez gave the Spanish side a narrow advantage ahead of the second leg when he hit a stunning volley (below video) from the edge of the penalty area, through traffic and just inside the far post, in the 87th minute.
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 Fiorentina
Dynamo Kyiv’s Jeremain Lens gave the home side a first-half lead (39th minute) when his right-footed effort from just outside the penalty area took a heavy deflection off the leg of a defender, sending the ball skyward over the head of Fiorentina ‘keeper Neto and quickly back down to find the back of the net.
Dynamo looked destined to carry a one-goal lead into the second leg having not conceded an away goal to Fiorentina, but Khouma Babacar scored with an opportunistic overhead kick (below video) two minutes into second-half stoppage time, grabbing the vital away goal for La Viola and making them the favorites heading into next Thursday’s return leg.
Elsewhere in Europa League
Club Brugge 0-0 Dnipro