As if the last two afternoons (for us North Americans, at least) haven’t been entertaining and exciting enough with the first leg of UEFA Champions League semifinals being played, Thursday offers little downtime and even more final-four soccer, as the Europa League kicks off its semifinal round.
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In semifinal first leg No. 1, defending champions Sevilla will play hosts to Fiorentina, easily one of this year’s tournament’s most impressive, darling sides. Fiorentina knocked off Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur (3-1 on aggregate) in the round of 32, fellow Serie A side Roma (4-1 agg.) in the round of 16 and Dynamo Kyiv (3-1 agg.) in the quarterfinals to reach Thursday’s semifinal.
Sevilla defeated Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach (4-2 agg.) in the round of 32, thumped fellow La Liga side Villarreal (5-2 agg.) in the round of 16 and slipped by Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg (4-3 agg.) in the quarters. Colombian striker Carlos Bacca (above right, No. 9) leads Sevilla with four Europa League goals, while Peruvian midfielder Juan Vargas’s three goals are tops for Fiorentina.
Meanwhile in Naples, Napoli will host Ukrainian Premier League side Dnipro at the Stadio San Paolo. In reaching the semifinal round, Napoli brushed aside Turkish side Trabzonspor (5-0 agg.), knocked off Dinamo Moscow (3-1 agg.) and hammered second-placed Bundesliga side Wolfsburg (6-3 agg.), thanks to the goalscoring contributions of Gonzalo Higuain (7), and and the trio of Jonathan de Guzman, Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens (4 goals each).
Dnipro topped Olympiacos (4-2 agg.) in the round of 32, advanced past Ajax (2-2 agg. on away goals) in the round of 16 and slipped past Belgian side Club Brugges in the quarterfinals.