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Juventus’ goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon jumps for the ball during the UEFA Europa League semifinal football match Juventus vs Benfica on May 1, at the Juventus Stadium in Turin. (AFP)
Benfica, Sevilla into Europa League final Juve denied

PARIS, May 2, (AFP): Benfica and Sevilla reached the Europa League final Thursday, further cementing an Iberian grip on the sport on the continent. In a week which had already seen Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid set-up a Champions League title showdown, Europe’s second-tier tournament followed a similar script. Benfica, runners-up to Chelsea in last year’s final, weathered a Juventus onslaught in Turin to hold out for a 0-0 draw and a 2-1 semi-final aggregate win. They ensured the stalemate despite having Enzo Perez sent off for a second bookable offence with 23 minutes to play. The Portuguese side restricted the Italians to only a handful of serious opportunities as Juventus failed to score at home for the first time in 25 matches this season. The loss also denied Juventus, who are heading for the Serie A title this season, the opportunity to play the May 14 final on their home ground.

Juventus coach Antonio Conte insisted his side had been the more positive. “They had two shots on goal over the two legs and now they’re into the final. In the end, the least deserving team have gone to the final,” he said. “We gave it everything we could but it wasn’t enough. Now we have to turn our attention to winning the title, which we can do on Monday against Atalanta.” Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said: “We came under a lot of pressure against a strong side featuring the likes of Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente and Arturo Vidal. “But tonight we showed how we can defend.” Cameroon international Stephane Mbia headed home in the fifth minute of stoppage time to take Sevilla into the final on away goals despite losing 3-1 on the night away to Valencia. An early strike from Sofiane Feghouli and Beto’s own goal had wiped out Sevilla’s 2-0 first leg advantage inside 25 minutes.

Jeremy Mathieu’s goal midway through the second-half then seemed to have Valencia on route to the final, but Mbia, on-loan from Queens Park Rangers, powered home Federico Fazio’s flick-on from a long throw to deny Los Che with the last attack of the game. “I think it is the happiest moment of my life,” said Mbia, who also scored in the first leg. “It is unbelievable. I don’t have the words to describe it.” Inspired by overcoming a 3-0 first leg defeat to beat Basel 5-0 at home in the return in the quarter-finals, Valencia went ahead on 14 minutes when Feghouli cut inside onto his left foot and his shot deflected off Fazio and flew into the roof of the net. The Algerian international came close again when he was denied by a fine low save by Beto.

However, the Portuguese goalkeeper was unfortunate moments later when the ball rebounded in off his back after he had made a fine save to turn Jonas Goncalves’ header onto the bar. The hosts looked to have sealed their place in the final 21 minutes from time when Mathieu thrashed home after the ball fell perfectly for the French defender from Fede’s corner. However, Mbia’s dramatic intervention means it will instead be two-time winners Sevilla who will face Benfica in the final in Turin on May 14. Meanwhile, Juventus coach Antonio Conte blasted referee Mark Clattenburg after his side were knocked out of the Europa League by Benfica on Thursday, saying the Englishman was not good enough to officiate such an important match.

The Serie A leaders failed to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg of their semi-final, only managing a goalless draw with the newly-crowned Portuguese champions in Turin. Conte was convinced that his side should have been awarded a penalty when Fernando Llorente’s 65th minute header appeared to strike defender Luisao on the hand. One goal would have put his side through to the final on away goals. “Today there should have been a penalty, after the penalty not given for a foul on (Giorgio) Chiellini on the first leg,” Conte told reporters. Conte also claimed Clattenburg had failed to control what he saw as Benfica’s spoiling tactics.

“The referee allowed them to obstruct the play the whole game. Before the game he told is us that he wouldn’t stop play every time a player hit the floor, but that’s what happened. “We feel like we’re not being taken seriously, and UEFA should show us more respect by sending a referee of the required standard.” Juve missed out on the chance to contest the Europa League final on home turf, with Benfica returning to the Juventus Stadium on May 14 to take on Seville. However, they are eight points clear at the top of Serie A and should seal their third straight league title when they host Atalanta on Monday (2000 BST).

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