It was a big week in Europe, as all three men’s continental competitions reached the end of their quarter-finals stage.
In this column, we’ve also got a big result in a major title race as well as continental action from South America.
🏆 UEFA Champions League: Napoli 1-1 Milan (1-2 on aggregate)
The all-Italian Champions League quarter-final tie was the closest going into the second leg. The Stadio Diego Armando Maradona was the venue for this, as domestic league leaders Napoli aimed to turn the tie around against Serie A holders Milan.
Although Stefano Pioli’s side are enduring a tough season, they seem to have found the number of the Partenopei at the crunch time.
Ahead of the first leg at San Siro, they put four past the champions-elect in Naples in a league match. Their success in both of those games was centred around a solid defensive setup, which then enabled them to pose a counterattacking threat.
They saw no need to change a winning formula, and it worked yet again. They could have taken the lead in the 24th minute when Rafael Leão won a penalty, but Olivier Giroud had his effort saved.
Just before half-time, the pair got their goal involvements, as the Portuguese winger went on a motoring run and set up the Frenchman with a tap-in into an empty net.
Napoli created very little in the first half but grew into the game on the other side of the break. They were presented with a decent shot at staging a comeback when Khvicha Kvaratskhelia stepped up to take a spot-kick in the 82nd minute, but his effort was saved too! So, Victor Osimhen’s stoppage-time header proved too little and too late.
With that, Milan advanced to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in over 15 years. There, they will face their local rivals Inter, who are among the five Italian sides to qualify for continental semi-finals this season.
🏆 UEFA Europa League: Sporting 1-1 Juventus (1-2 on aggregate)
Thursday was a pretty good day for Juventus.
First, they had their 15-point deduction in Serie A (temporarily) repealed, restoring them to the top four for now at least. Prior to that, they might have felt that winning the Europa League was their best route to the Champions League next season, and they’ll still want to take it in case they ultimately do end up getting a points deduction before the season ends.
They visited Lisbon with a one-goal lead from the first leg, so they only needed a draw to progress. Adrien Rabiot got them off to the perfect start, opening the scoring in the ninth minute by turning in a corner. But Rabiot taketh away what he giveth – in this case by conceding a penalty about ten minutes later which Marcus Edwards converted.
The hosts pushed for the aggregate equaliser, but they found good chances hard to come by.
Juventus tried to tighten things up by switching to a 5-4-1 defensive shape late on, but they could not prevent two golden opportunities falling Sporting’s way late on.
Thankfully for them, both fell to the feet of centre-back Sebastián Coates, who missed the target altogether from very close range on both occasions.
That allowed Juventus to advance to their first European semi-final in six years, where they will face Sevilla, the side that put three past Manchester United.
🏴 England: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal
In the midst of all this European action, there was a huge clash in the WSL title race in midweek. Leaders Manchester United hosted Arsenal, who were three points behind them but did have a game in hand.
The Gunners seemed to be serious contenders in the title race in the first half of the season, but long-term injuries suffered by several key players slightly derailed their campaign.
Their absences list for this match included star attackers Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, captain Kim Little, Australian international Caitlin Foord as well as the suspended Katie McCabe.
Unfortunately, their injury list only grew in less than a quarter of an hour after kick-off, as stand-in captain Leah Williamson went down clutching her knee and limped off.
Despite primarily being a centre-back by trade, she has often started in midfield lately as Arsenal had to find innovative solutions to their injury crisis. She was replaced by young Brazilian winger Giovana Queiroz.
These issues undoubtedly disrupted the visitors’ match plan, but their opponents were not able to pose a great threat either. Indeed, good chances were few and far between on the night, but Man United came away with the three points thanks to Alessia Russo, who converted one on the stroke of half-time.
This result takes United four points clear at the top of the table as they search for their first major title, but Chelsea have a couple of games in hand.
Those two will be the main contenders in the title race while Arsenal and Manchester City battle for the final European spot.
🏆 UEFA Europa Conference League: Nice 1-2 Basel (AET; 3-4 on aggregate)
Back in Europe, the best continental competition in terms of excitement and entertainment did not disappoint yet again. The quarter-final second legs were all great matches to watch, and they threw up some big results too.
In the early kick-offs, AZ beat Anderlecht on penalties after Fiorentina survived an incredible comeback staged by Lech Poznań. The other two ties kicked off at the same time as the Europa League matches, but one went on a little longer.
Nice’s match against Basel went on to extra time after the visitors equalised in the 86th minute through Jean-Kevin Augustin.
Didier Digard would have been very disappointed to see that, as his side took the lead early on and dominated for most of the match, but conceded from just the second shot fired from inside their penalty area.
Things would go from bad to worse for them in extra time, as Basel went on to take the lead through Kasim Adams’ header in the 98th minute.
Nice’s subsequent search for an equaliser was almost successful when Bilal Brahimi took a free-kick from a dangerous position, but his effort bounced off the wrong side of the crossbar.
So, Basel advanced to their second-ever European semi-finals in what has been a very poor season for them domestically.
They are currently in sixth place in the Swiss Super League and out of the cup, having sacked manager Alexander Frei in February and allowing sporting director Heiko Vogel to take the reins on an interim basis.
Funnily enough, this seems to be a bit of a pattern among the Europa Conference League semi-finalists. Only AZ are the outliers, as both West Ham United and Fiorentina are also underperforming relative to expectations in their respective leagues.
🏆 Copa Libertadores: Athletico Paranaense 2-1 Atlético Mineiro
There was one all-Brazilian match-up in the second round of the Copa Libertadores’ group stage, and it has left one of the teams in a precarious position.
Atlético Mineiro have only been eliminated from the group stage of the competition once in the last decade, but they could suffer such a fate this time after failing to pick up any points a third of the way through.
After their disappointing loss to Paraguayan visitors Libertad on the opening matchweek, they rather needed to get a result in Paraná, but failed to do so.
An early strike from highly-rated teenage talent Vitor Roque set Athletico Paranaense on the path to victory, with their course set further by David Terans’ penalty in the 35th minute.
Paulinho pulled one back for the visitors after being set up by Hulk, but they could not find an equaliser and had to resign to defeat after right-back Mariano was sent off for a second yellow card late on.
This result unsurprisingly leaves Atlético Mineiro at the bottom of their group, making their next match against Peruvian league leaders Alianza Lima all the more pivotal for their campaign.
👀 What To Watch Next:
More big matches are in store for us this weekend, including these:
🇩🇪 Germany: Hamburger SV vs St. Pauli (Friday, 16:30 UTC)
The Hamburg derby is set to be a pivotal clash in the 2. Bundesliga promotion race. Hamburg are third but have only won one of their last five matches, while St. Pauli, who are six points behind them, were on a nine-match winning streak until last weekend.
🏆 UEFA Women’s Champions League: Chelsea vs Barcelona (Saturday, 11:30 UTC)
The semi-finals of the Women’s Champions League kick off this weekend. The first tie sees Chelsea face Barcelona for the first time since the 2021 final, which the Blaugrana won by a four-goal margin.
🏆 CAF Champions League: Al Ahly vs Raja Casablanca (Saturday, 19:00 UTC)
We’ve also got continental knockout football from Africa this weekend, where the CAF Champions League enters the business end. Egyptian league leaders Al Ahly’s tie against Moroccan giants Raja Casablanca has to be the highest-profile quarter-final, so keep an eye on that.
🇦🇹 Austria: Sturm Graz vs RB Salzburg (Sunday, 15:00 UTC)
There might just be a title race in the Austrian Bundesliga for once. RB Salzburg only have a two-point lead at the top of the table at the moment as they chase their 10th-consecutive title, and they could lose it on their visit to Graz this weekend.
🏴 England: Brighton & Hove Albion vs Manchester United (Sunday, 15:30 UTC)
Brighton & Hove Albion have only played one major cup final in their history, which was back in 1983 against Manchester United in the FA Cup. The same opponents stand in their way as they will try to get a second shot at the trophy in the FA Cup semi-final.
Stats courtesy Transfermarkt, Opta Analyst, MarkStats and FotMob.
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