• Peter Burtnett

Semifinals set in UEFA Europa, Champions leagues


The stage is set for an exciting finish in Europe's top premier tournaments. Photo shows the official logos of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

An exciting PSG comeback win, an American hero coming to the rescue for RB Leipzig, an historic Bayern Munich win and an upset-minded Lyon set the stage for what should be an exciting UEFA Champions League semifinal.

But with all the excitement around the Champions League, we can't forget about the Europa League, which will be holding its semifinal matches Sunday and Monday afternoons before the Champions League semis the following Tuesday and Wednesday.

The first of the semifinals, all of which will be played at 3 p.m. ET, is between La Liga side Sevilla FC and Premier League powerhouse Manchester United.

On their path to the semifinals after the delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sevilla defeated AS Roma 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals, where they defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 with an 88th-minute goal from Lucas Ocampos. With 17 goals in all competitions, holding Ocampos scoreless will be a priority for Manchester United to win.

For Man U, a 5-0 lead over LASK Linz after the first leg allowed them to cruise into the quarterfinals 7-1 on aggregate. However, their opponent in the quarterfinals, FC Copenhagen, was more than up for the task as they held a strong attacking Man U scoreless through the first and second half. It wasn't until five minutes into extra time that a Bruno Fernandes penalty found the back of the net and was enough to push Man U into the final four.

In their Sunday match-up, the Sevilla defense will try to replicate Copenhagen's efforts as they try to limit Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, who have combined for 73 goals in the 2019-20 season across all competitions.

The other semifinal, featuring Serie A's Inter Milan and Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk, may not have quite as big a market, but will produce a worthy contender in the Europa League final.

Inter Milan received goals from familiar faces Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen to get past Getafe 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals, where they faced Bayer Leverkusen. Inter once again went up 2-0, but a 24th minute goal from Chelsea target Kai Havertz left the remainder of the match tight and physical, resulting in six yellow cards after the Havertz goal.

Shakhtar Donetsk may seem the underdog against the likes of Lukaku and Eriksen, but with a 3-0 win in the second leg of their Round of 16 match-up against Wolfsburg (5-1 on aggregate), and a 4-1 win over FC Basel saw the Ukrainians cruise into the semifinals behind a strong attacking front.

Moving into the Champions League, last year's all-England final is now impossible, and after Manchester City's defeat at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais, the final will feature no England team at all but could feature two French teams or two German teams. In fact, this is the first time in Champions League history that no Spanish, English or Italian teams are in the semis.

Setting the stage for that final are, of course, the semifinals, which take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, beginning with German side RB Leipzig and French giant Paris Saint Germain.

On their path to the final four since the restart, Leipzig won an exciting 2-1 match against Atletico Madrid, with the winner coming in the 88th minute via 21-year old American international Tyler Adams. Even without 2019-20 leading scorer Timo Werner (gone on a transfer to Chelsea), the 11-year old club is no stranger to being the underdog and will certainly challenge their opponent.

While that opponent is a behemoth in Ligue 1, PSG struggled against Atalanta and won a thrilling fixture, erasing a 1-0 deficit with two goals in the dying knockings of the game. First, Neymar assisted Marquinhos in the 90th minute, but with the game seemingly headed to extra time Neymar found Kylian Mbappe, who expertly found Eric Maxim Chuopo-Moting in the third minute of stoppage time.

Leipzig will have their hands full against Mbappe and Neymar, but they should they can stand firm defensively, holding a side which scored over 100 goals in all competitions in 2019-20 (Atalanta) to just one.

The second semifinal sees Cinderella story French side Lyon against German superpower Bayern Munich.

Bayern seems penciled into the final already after they put EIGHT goals past Barcelona's Marc Andre Ter Stegen. Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry, among others, have led the German side to 19 straight wins, going back to a 0-0 draw against fellow Champions League semifinalist RB Leipzig on February 9.

Coming up against Bayern are Lyon, who lost to Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus 2-1 in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie, but advanced on away goals in a 2-2 aggregate score. In the quarterfinal one-off, Lyon shocked Manchester City, who finished second in the Premier League and showed some of the issues that caused them to lose nine matches in England's top flight. Moussa Dembele scored the winning goal in the 79th minute and added a security goal in the 87th to stun Pep Guardiola's side to advance to the final four.

The stage is set for what should be an exciting conclusion to a fractured and delayed European season, but as evidenced by the quarterfinal stages, a thrilling conclusion can be expected.

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