3 things you need to know about Thursday's Europa League action

Apr 24, 6:11 PM

It may be ridiculed by many as the ugly sister of the Champions League, but the Europa League treated fans to some fascinating semifinal action on Thursday that was befitting of its more illustrious counterpart.

Given the quality of the four clubs still remaining in the competition, perhaps we shouldn't be entirely surprised.

Benfica, recently crowned as Portuguese champions, and soon-to-be Italian title winners Juventus locked horns in Portugal.

Meanwhile, it was an all Spanish affair in the other semifinal, as Sevilla played host to Valencia.

Here are three things you need to know about Thursday's Europa League action ...

Lima's stunner powers Benfica to victory 

Powered by a typically raucous crowd at the Estadio da Luz, Benfica wasted no time jumping ahead, as Ezequiel Garay rose highest to head home a corner in the third minute of the match.

After an uncharacteristically slow start, the Italian side began to grow into the contest  midway through the opening half.

Powered by the vision of Andrea Pirlo and the incisive running of Carlos Tevez and Claudio Marchisio, Juventus dominated possession and dictated play in the second half, and were rewarded with a prized away goal in the 73rd minute.

Derided for his inability to score in European competition all season long, it was the energetic Argentine striker Tevez who finally got the gorilla off his back.

The goal was Tevez's first in European competition in five agonizing years, as he had not found the net since a 2009 Champions League match against Porto - when he was a member of Manchester United.

Seemingly in control of the contest, the Italian side switched off briefly after the goal, and paid for it dearly. Brazilian striker Lima quite literally fired his side back in front with this thunderbolt of a strike late in the contest.

Given his ridiculous conversion rate in the competition this season, the chance really could not have fallen to a better man for the Eagles.

Juventus pressed in the final minutes, but could not find a second equalizer, and will head home for next week's return leg in Turin knowing that a 1-0 victory will be enough to see them through to the final.

Sevilla with comfortable advantage heading into second leg 

A pair of goals in the opening half saw Sevilla claim a comfortable 2-0 victory over La Liga rivals Valencia at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, although the match was not without its share of controversy. 

Stéphane M'Bia's opener in the 33rd minute - while an impressive finish - was accompanied by more than a hint of offside. A lot more. It was almost like being punched in the face by a blown call, to be honest.

Despite being (rightfully) upset by the linesman's egregious error, Valencia had only themselves to blame for falling further behind just three minutes later. Colombian striker Carlos Bacca combined brilliantly for a one-two with midfielder Vitolo, before firing a low drive beyond keeper Vicente Guaita.

Sevilla now have one foot in the final, and will be heavily favoured to complete the job in the return leg.

Of course, Valencia did overturn a 3-0 deficit against FC Basel to qualify for this stage, scoring five goals at the Mestalla in the second leg of their quarterfinal tie.

Surely, they can't repeat the feat?

The supporters were on their game, too

With the Europa League final set to be played at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Sevilla supporters came prepared for today's contest with one of the better banners we've seen of late.

[Courtesy: ESPN FC]

Fitting, then, that their club is in the driver's seat heading into the second leg.

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters