Spanish clubs dominating Europa League
Maybe they should just call it La Europa Liga.
Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Valencia marched into the Europa League semifinals Thursday night, joined by another bunch from the Iberian Peninsula, Sporting Lisbon, in a show of strength from Spanish football.
With Barcelona and Real Madrid already into the Champions League last four, La Liga owns five of the eight places among the elite of European club football with England, Germany and Portugal barely crashing the party.
Sporting will face Athletic while Atletico and Valencia battle in the first leg of the semifinals April 19. FOX Soccer is the new home of the Europa League, and you can follow all the action game days either on FoxSoccer.com or via Twitter on our dedicated service, @FoxSoccerTrax.
Sadly, for Americans Jermaine Jones, Jozy Altidore and Steve Cherundolo the night brought no glory. Their European campaigns all ended in defeat for their clubs. But one American remains, albeit idled by injury: Oguchi Onyewu’s Sporting remains.
Athletic Bilbao's place was secured in the first leg when they hammered Schalke 4-2 in Germany. But Valencia and Atletico Madrid did not start action Thursday night with any certainty of advancing. In the end, a 2-2 draw saw Athletic ease in safely while Valencia overpowered AZ Alkmaar 4-0, and Atletico Madrid repeated its 2-1 first leg triumph with a win over Hannover in Germany.
Sporting was under pressure much of the night in Ukraine, but a headed goal from Ricky Van Wolfswinkel just before halftime proved enough to see off Metalist, who managed to draw 1-1 but could not make constant attacking pay off with a needed second as they lost 3-2 on aggregate.
Schalke's performance in the San Mames was laudable. Jones marshaled an attacking formation that dominated much of the first half, but Athletic was even at the interval when substitute Ibai Gomez matched an earlier Klaas-Jan Huntelaar goal.
The Germans went right back at it in the second half, and the Spanish crowd actually applauded when they scored again because the marksman was their old favorite, Raul. The striker netted his third goal over the two legs. Sadly, he was forced to watch Schalke get immediately punished at the other end, when Markel Susaeta finishing a play begun by Iker Muniain. After that it was simply a case of playing out the eventual 6-4 Athletic aggregate success.
Valencia went at a disappointing AZ Alkmaar side and wiped out its 2-1 deficit in just 18 minutes. Both goals were scored by Adil Rami: he was left unmarked twice to first head, then side-foot in crosses that bemused the Dutch defense. Roberto Soldado set up Jordi Alba for a third in the 57th minute, and the AZ defense simply stood and watched as Pablo Hernandez made it 4-0 in the 80th minute to complete a 5-2 aggregate victory. Altidore started and played nearly 70 minutes but got little service as AZ rarely achieved anything in the Mestalla.
Atletico Madrid rarely looked in trouble in Germany but did not score until after the hour when Adrian walked around three defenders to put them ahead 1-0. Cherundolo's Hannover took advantage of a poor clearance in the 81st minute when Didier Ya Konan's cross was headed directly to Mame Diouf, but the home team could not force a second goal that would have brought extra time.
Instead, Diego — active all night in the Atletico midfield — juked past two defenders before chipping a pass that Falcao Garcia volleyed home to make it 2-1 on the night for the visitors and 4-2 overall.
Metalist worked hard and carried much of the attack to Sporting, but they were caught napping when Diego Capel's cross went to Van Wolfswinkel in the 44th minute and the striker buried his header. Jonathan Cristaldo accepted a chance from Marko Devic in the 57th minute, but the Ukrainian side could not get another.