Europa League: Spanish trio join Sporting in securing last-four slots

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SPANISH clubs continued their impressive run in Europe this season as Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Valencia reached the Europa League semi-finals alongside Sporting Lisbon.

Bilbao twice rallied to dash Schalke’s hopes with a 2-2 draw that put them through 6-4 on aggregate; Valencia routed AZ Alkmaar 4-0 to easily go through 5-2; and Atletico won 2-1 at Hannover to secure a 4-2 victory over two legs. Sporting completed the Iberian peninsula’s tremendous night as the Portuguese side drew 1-1 at Metalist Kharkiv to go through 3-2.

Sporting will meet Bilbao and Atletico face Valencia as three Spanish clubs reached the semifinals after having done so in 2007. The Europa League hopefuls followed up Barcelona and Real Madrid’s progression into the Champions League semi- finals earlier this week.

Schalke looked keen to pull off an upset at San Mames Stadium as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar drove a shot beyond goalkeeper Gorka Iraizon to give the visitors a 28th-minute lead with his tournament-leading tenth goal.

Schalke’s pressure paid off early as Bilbao failed to show their usual verve, although coach Marcelo Bielsa’s decision to replace Ander Herrera with Ibai Gomez right after the goal soon paid off. Gomez cut inside from the left to curl a perfect shot from outside the area around keeper Lars Unnerstall for a 41st-minute equaliser.

With the rain coming down, Raul Gonzalez put the German side ahead again in the 52nd minute. But, three minutes later, Bilbao levelled again as Iker Muniain played Markel Susaeta into the right side of the area to beat Unnerstall with a low shot.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel headed Sporting into a 44th minute lead, but the Ukrainian side equalised 13 minutes later through Jonathan Cristaldo cutting inside to beat Rui Patricio with a powerful shot. Rui Patricio then saved Cleiton Xavier’s penalty to dash the host’s hopes.

In Hannover, Adrian Lopez put 2010 champions Atletico on course to the final four with one of the best goals of the season.

Lopez held off Emanuel Pogatetz’s challenge to gather Diego’s pass inside the area, the Spanish striker skirting around five challenges before calmly firing past Pogatetz, who was covering with goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler laid out flat after twice being unable to catch Lopez.

Mame Diouf rolled home an 81st-minute equaliser for the Germans, but Radamel Falcao volleyed the winner for Atletico three minutes from time.

Valencia surged into a 2-0 lead inside 17 minutes with a quickfire double from defender Adil Rami, and Jordi Alba and Pablo Hernandez added second-half goals to complete the easy win.