So the semifinalists are set for the Champions League, making for some tantalizing fixtures coming up in a couple weeks:
Tues 17 April: Bayern-Real Madrid
Wed 18 April Chelsea-Barcelona
Tues 24 April: Barcelona-Chelsea
Wed 25 April: Real Madrid-Bayern
(and the final: Sat 19 May at Fußball Arena München, Munich)
And now on to today…
Thursday, April 5 (all four matches kickoff at 3:05pmET):
The Europa League Final Four will be set after today’s 4 quarterfinal 2nd leg matches, kicking off simultaneously in Kharkiv (Ukraine), Hannover (Germany), Bilbao (Basque autonomous community), and Valencia (Spain). It’s always exhausting to follow a Champions League matchday over a Tuesday and Wednesday, and then realize there’s a whole slate of Europa League games Thursday. But if you’re up for it, here are the quarterfinal 2nd leg fixtures.
We’ve included some notes on the 1st leg results (3 finely balanced ties following 2-1 home wins for AZ, Sporting CP Lisbon and Atletico Madrid–and one lopsided one thanks to an other smashing European performance by Athletic Bilbao):
Valencia vs AZ Alkmaar: Dutch side AZ Alkmaar beat Valencia 2-1 in Alkmaar last week, but we like Valencia to advance (not least b/c the Mestalla is the one venue where we attended a top-flight European match, and hence we’re partial to Los Che (or is it Xe?)–but more on that in another post.) On the other hand, for us Americans this is a chance to see striker Jozy Altidore, who joined AZ last summer and is enjoying something of a resurgence after a few unsettled years in Villareal. Other AZ players to watch are: 18-yo Dutch-Moroccan midfielder Adam Maher, who we’ve been reading a bit about as the next big thing in Dutch football.
Metalist Kharkiv vs Sporting CP Lisbon: Sporting won 2-1 last week in Lisbon. We’ll be supporting the Portuguese side again here, not least because we visited the Estádio José Alvalade a few years ago and picked up a Sporting jersey in the team shop. But going all the way to eastern Ukraine is always a tough proposition for western teams, and the Ukrainian club has some skilled players. Metalist’s squad is almost evenly split between Ukrainian and South American players–not dissimilar from their better known eastern Ukrainian rival, Shakhtar Donetsk.
Hannover 96 vs Atlético Madrid: Atlético salvaged a 2-1 win at the Estadio Vincente Calderon last week thanks to a late goal by young Argentine winger Eduardo Salvio, and are favored to advance.
Athletic Bilbao vs Schalke 04: Athletic Club continued their eye-opening form in Europa with a 4-2 away victory in Gelsenkirchen last week. So this tie is pretty much done–but this is still the match we’ll be watching, given our increasing fascination with the Basque side under Bielsa.