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Pirlo puts Juventus into Europa League quarters

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Published : 2014-03-21 19:27
Updated : 2014-03-21 19:27

Andrea Pirlo’s sumptuous free kick earned Juventus a place in the Europa League quarterfinals, where the competition favorites were joined in an attractive lineup by Sevilla after its penalty-shootout win over fierce Spanish rival Real Betis on Thursday.

Portuguese sides Benfica and Porto also advanced to the last eight while Basel overcame an early red card to win 2-1 at Salzburg and progress from a last-16 second leg that was briefly suspended because of crowd trouble.

Lyon, Valencia and AZ Alkmaar will also be in Friday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland, where the team to avoid will be Juventus ― even though the Italian champions made heavy work of their all-Italian last-16 match against Fiorentina. 
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba (center) jostles with Fiorentina midfielder Massimo Ambrosini (left) during an Europa League, round of 16, return-leg soccer match between Fiorentina and Juventus at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence, Italy, Thursday. (AP-Yonhap)

Having drawn 1-1 at home in the first leg, Juve was staring at elimination on the away-goals rule until Fiorentina defender Gonzalo Rodriguez was dismissed in the 69th minute for a second booking. From the resulting free kick at the edge of the area, Pirlo stepped up and whipped a brilliant strike into the top corner to seal a 1-0 win.

The classy Italy midfielder shows no sign of decline at the age of 34 ― he scored a similarly sublime free kick for his team in a last-gasp league win over Genoa on Sunday, which kept Juve 14 points clear in Serie A and on course to defend its title.

Juventus will be hosting the Europa League final on May 14 and the runaway Italian league leader may yet be playing in the showpiece match in front of its own fans.

Sevilla overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit courtesy of goals by Jose Antonio Reyes and Carlos Bacca, earning a 2-0 win that sent the match to penalties.

Sevilla’s first spot kick by Vitolo was saved but Alfred N’Diaye and Nono failed to find the target with Betis’ last two attempts, putting the two-time winners through 4-3 on penalties.

Benfica remained on course for a return to the final after surviving a late fightback by Tottenham to draw 2-2 in their second leg and advance 5-3 on aggregate.

Two goals in less than two minutes by Nacer Chadli put Spurs 2-1 ahead on the night and gave them 11 minutes to score another, which would have forced extra time. The English team missed a number of chances before conceding a penalty deep into injury time, converted by Lima.

There was no repeat of the touchline spat between rival coaches Jorge Jesus and Tim Sherwood form the first leg ― Sherwood opted to sit in the stands and stay out of trouble.

Porto’s 1-0 lead from its first leg against Napoli was wiped out by Goran Pandev’s deft finish in the 21st minute. The Italian side dominated but was picked off on counterattacks through goals by Nabil Ghilas in the 69th and Ricardo Quaresma in the 76th.

Quaresma, the mercurial playmaker, finished off a flowing move by jinking between two defenders and slamming a shot high into the net for the goal of the evening. Duvan Zapata’s consolation goal earned Napoli a 2-2 draw but it exited 3-2 on aggregate, denying coach Rafael Benitez the opportunity to retain the title he won when in interim charge of Chelsea last season.

Players were taken off the pitch by the referee for about 10 minutes midway through the first half of Salzburg-Basel after missiles, including fireworks, were thrown onto the field of play by Basel fans.

The score was 1-0 to Salzburg at the time after Jonatan Soriano‘s competition-high eighth goal in the Europa League, while Basel was down to 10 men after Marek Suchy’s straight red in the ninth minute.

However, Marco Streller and Gaston Sauro scored headed goals in the second half for the Swiss team and Salzburg also ended the match with 10 men after Alan received a second yellow card for trying a bicycle kick and hitting Basel defender Philipp Degen in the face.

Lyon lost 2-1 at Viktoria Plzen but advanced 5-3 on aggregate, Valencia beat Ludogorets Razgrad 1-0 thanks to Paco Alcacer‘s 59th-minute goal and advanced 4-0 on aggregate. AZ Alkmaar drew 0-0 at Anzhi Makhachkala for a 1-0 aggregate victory. (AP)

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