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Jon Riley 25th Apr 2012 - 13:48

Europa League Semi-Finals Preview

Europa League Semi-Finals Preview

For a second straight season, the last four of the Europa League consists of teams solely from the Iberian Peninsula. Whereas last year it was the Portuguese dominating the competition, this year it is the Spaniards that are exerting supremacy, providing three of the last four teams contesting the semi-finals.

Sporting Lisbon are the Portuguese representatives standing in the way of an all Spanish final. The Leões came from behind in stunning fashion to record a 2-1 first-leg victory at the Estadio de Alvalade and can be backed at 9/2 to win in 90 minutes once again, although history does not support this possibility. Sporting are yet to win on Spanish soil in European competitions and have won just one of their last 10 European games on the road, drawing four and losing five of the remaining nine.

Bilbao have swept all before them so far in the Europa League, winning admirers across the continent for their direct, aggressive and free-flowing brand of football that has been displayed. Marcelo Bielsa's men have already beaten PSG, Manchester United and Schalke but could not overcome their spirited Portuguese hosts a week ago. Bielsa's men are a short price 6/10 to win in 90 minutes, with many pundits claiming that their first-leg defeat was simply a speedbump on their road to the final.

The Basques are the undoubted favourites to qualify through to their first continental final since losing to Juventus in the 1977 UEFA Cup final. The To Qualify prices are Athletic 4/6 and Sporting Lisbon 11/10.

Prior to the first leg, the last time these two clubs faced each other dated back to 1985-86, when Sporting came out on top 4-2 on aggregate in the Uefa Cup third round. For a reoccurrence of that aggregate scoreline, it would need another 2-1 victory for Sporting, which is priced at 16/1.

A win for the visitors would be a shock considering Athletic's record against Portuguese opponents at San Mames. Bilbao have won every single encounter with Portuguese clubs on their own turf and are 1/5 in the Draw No Bet market and 13/10 for Bilbao/Bilbao in the Double Result market.

William Hill are offering a special Match Winner price for this game concentrating on Bilbao's brilliant frontman Fernando Llorente. The Spanish international has been in irresistible form in the competition so far, scoring home and away against Manchester United. For Llorente to score and Athletic Bilbao to qualify, we are enhancing the price from 6/4 to 2/1.

The second Europa League semi-final is not only an all Spanish affair but also a chance for retribution for Valencia. Two years ago these two teams clashed in the quarter-finals of the inaugural Europa League with Atletico advancing on away goals after a deadlocked two legs. The real contentious moment and the reason for Valencia's anger, was a blatant penalty not awarded to them in Madrid for a tug on the shirt of Nikola Zigic that ripped his jersey in two.

To exact revenge they must overcome a two goal deficit inflicted on them by Atletico at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in last week's first-leg. A 4-2 home win (40/1 in Valencia's favour) means that the odds are stacked against Los Che when it comes to qualification (Valencia 5/2, Atletico 2/7). However , Ricardo Costa's late away goal gives them hope of progression and they kick-off in the knowledge that their opponents have never won a European match away from home on Spanish soil, while Valencia have never been beaten at Mestalla against a La Liga team in Europe. Los Che can be backed at 19/20 to win in 90 minutes.

Atletico manager Diego Simeone has overseen an inconsistent season where poor away results have counter balanced a very decent home record. After last week's scintillating display in front of their home fans, Madrid are priced at 11/4 to win in 90 minutes and complete the semi-final double. With qualification for the Champions League now looking out of their reach, all focus will be on the UEFA Europa League, a competition they went on to win in 2010 and of securing a place in the final in Bucharest.

Madrid can count on Colombian striker Radamel Falcao who has not only notched 22 goals in his debut La Liga campaign but also fired in the winner for Porto in last year's Europa League final. The Atletico talisman scored the first and last of his team's goals last week and is priced at 5/1 to open the scoring in the Mestalla and 6/1 to score two or more goals.

Valencia's attacking spearhead comes in the form of Roberto Soldado. The former Real Madrid striker has an impressive record of 35 goals in 64 games for Valencia including sixteen in the league this season. The Spanish international got on the score sheet in his team's emphatic 4-0 victory against Real Betis at the weekend and can be backed at 7/2 to break the deadlock here.

There are two enhanced doubles available for these semi-finals:
Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon @ 22/1 or Valencia and Athletic Bilbao @ 9/4



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