Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Europa League draw: Arsenal gets Napoli, Chelsea exhales

Leave a comment

Who’s got the best route to Baku?

The Europa League draw was held in the shadows of the UEFA Champions League draw on Friday, and it’s certainly not Arsenal.

[ MORE: Sporting KC advances in CCL ]

The Gunners will have to get past Napoli, and vice versa, if they want a chance at upending Chelsea and winning an automatic berth in the Champions League group stage.

Chelsea will meet Slavia Prague, easily the best draw of the bunch.

It’s an all-La Liga tie when Valencia meets Villarreal, while Benfica and Eintracht Frankfurt have a huge chance to entertain.

Should Arsenal defeat Napoli, it would face the Valencia-Villarreal winner.

In some ways, this gives Maurizio Sarri‘s Chelsea the clearest route to Azerbaijan, though Eintracht Frankfurt can trouble any back line and Benfica has plenty of European experience.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below.

Europa League wrap: Valencia advance with dramatic stoppage time goal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Valencia was on the verge of being knocked out of the UEFA Europa League in the round of 16 for the second consecutive year. Then Goncalo Guedes showed why he’s one of the top young attackers in Europe.

Deep in second half stoppage time, the Portuguese international used a shoulder faint to get past a defender in the box, took a touch, and then slotted home with his left foot to send the visiting Valencia squad into hysterics. The goal gave Valencia a 1-1 draw on the evening but a 3-2 aggregate win over FC Kuban Krasnodar. With the win, Valencia advances to the Europa League quarterfinals.

[READ: Inter Miami reveals temporary stadium plan]

Guedes’ strike followed an outstanding curling goal into the top corner by Krasnodar’s 19-year-old midfielder Magomed Suleymanov, which had put Krasnodar in position to advance to the next round.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, Inter Milan were bounced from the tournament by Eintracht Frankfurt. One of the top young attackers in Europe, Luka Jovic, scored the game’s only goal in the 6th minute. It’s an earlier-than-expected end to European competition for big spending Inter.

Here are the other finals from across Thursday’s Europa League action:

RB Salzburg 3-1 Napoli (3-4 agg.)

Benfica 3-0 AET Dinamo Zagreb (3-0 agg.)

Slavia Prague 4-3 AET Sevilla (6-5 agg.)

Villarreal 2-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (5-2 agg.)

Valencia strikes twice late to draw Betis in Copa semifinal

Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Kevin Gameiro scored in stoppage time as Valencia salvaged a 2-2 draw against Real Betis in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals on Thursday.

Betis took a 2-0 lead with a goal scored directly from a corner kick early in the second half, but the late goals gave Valencia the slight edge going into the return match at home later this month.

[ MORE: Sala body identified ]

Betis is hoping to be back for the May 25 final at its Villamarin Stadium in Seville, which saw a record crowd of 57,123 on Thursday. The other semifinal is being played by four-time defending champion Barcelona and Real Madrid, who drew 1-1 in their first leg on Wednesday at Camp Nou.

Betis opened the scoring with a goal by Loren Moron just before halftime, and veteran Joaquin Sanchez added to the lead with the rare corner kick goal less than 10 minutes into the second half.

The 37-year-old midfielder curled in a mid-height shot from the left corner and Valencia goalkeeper Jaume Domenech couldn’t get back in time to make the save before the ball crossed the goal line. The officiating crew initially let play continue, but a video review quickly confirmed the goal.

Russia forward Denis Cheryshev pulled one back for Valencia with a 70th-minute header after Gameiro’s cross, and the French forward evened the match from close range after a well-placed low pass by Rodrigo two minutes into stoppage time.

Valencia is back in the semifinals for the first time since 2012. It hasn’t made it to the final since it won the last of its seven titles in 2008.

Betis hadn’t reached the last four since it won the second of its two Copa titles in 2005.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Messi doesn’t practice prior to El Clasico in Copa del Rey

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has not practiced with his teammates on Monday, raising doubts about his presence in the Copa del Rey match against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Messi hurt his right leg in the 2-2 draw against Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday and remains doubtful for Barcelona’s home game against Madrid in the first leg of the Copa semifinals.

[ MORE: Almiron agent unhappy with MLS ]

Barcelona had not yet given full details about Messi’s condition, although reports said the injury wasn’t serious enough to keep him from facing Madrid at Camp Nou Stadium.

The injury appeared to happen when he was hit in the leg by Valencia defender Antonio Lato while they challenged for a ball in the second half on Saturday.

Messi missed Barcelona’s 5-1 league rout of Madrid in October because of a broken right arm.

He has scored at least a goal in nine straight games in all competitions and is the league’s leading scorer with 21 goals in 22 matches.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

La Liga: Messi saves Barcelona in draw, Sociedad wins Basque derby

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona dropped two points at the Camp Nou but it could have been worse, as Lionel Messi once again was the hero for the Blaugrana.

The star forward scored twice on either side of halftime, first from the penalty spot and the second from outside the box as Barcelona came back to draw Valencia, 2-2 on Saturday afternoon. Messi also took a knock to his thigh, raising doubts on his fitness ahead of Barcelona’s Copa Del Rey semifinal first leg on Wednesday against arch rivals Real Madrid.

[READ: Sean Dyche hammers officiating]

Twice, Valencia made a slow Barcelona backline pay on the counter attack within the game’s first half hour. First, Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno drove through the middle of the field untouched before laying off a perfectly-weighted pass into the box for Kevin Gameiro to smash home. Then, in the 30th minute, Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto bowled over Daniel Wass in the box, giving up a penalty kick. Dani Parejo stepped up and confidently slotted home to give Valencia the shock 2-0 lead.

It only took five minutes for Barcelona to pull one back. After Nelson Semedo was tripped up in the box, Messi stepped up to the spot and sent Valencia goallkeeper Neto the wrong way to make it 2-1. Messi forced a save from Neto a minute into the second half, and he finally found the net once again around a crowd of defenders in the 64th minute on a curling left-footed strike.

With the draw, Barcelona remains atop the La Liga standings with 50 points, six above Atletico Madrid in second-place, though Atleti has a game-in-hand. Real Madrid is currently 11 points back, with a game-in-hand as well.

Elsewhere in Spain on Saturday, Real Sociedad its second consecutive win over Athletic Bilbao in the Basque derby. Both teams featured new coaches since the last meeting but the result was the same, with Sociedad winning, 2-1, over Bilbao. Mikel Oyarzabal, who scored two goals in the last meeting, scored the opener again for Sociedad, and Willian Jose added a second over the poor Bilbao squad. Raul Garcia turned in a rebound late in the match to make it interesting for Bilbao but they ran out of time.

In Saturday’s late match, relegation-threatened Celta Vigo shocked fourth-place Sevilla with a 1-0 victory. Mexican National Team defender Nestor Araujo helped keep a clean sheet for Celta. Also, Levante and Getafe played to a scoreless draw.