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Chelsea leads quartet into Europa League semis

April 11, 2013

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Chelsea stumbled into the semifinals of the Europa League despite losing to Rubin Kazan on Thursday, while Basel beat Tottenham in a penalty shootout to also reach the last four.

Fenerbahce and Benfica were the other teams to advance in Europe’s second-tier competition after holding on for 1-1 draws at Lazio and Newcastle, respectively, in their quarterfinal second legs.

Chelsea lost 3-2 in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium — the scene of its defeat to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final — but progressed 5-4 on aggregate to once again fly the flag for England in Europe, the season after becoming European champions for the first time.

The London club appeared to be cruising after well-taken goals by Fernando Torres and Victor Moses gave them a 2-1 lead after 55 minutes and a 5-2 aggregate cushion. However, sloppy defending gifted goals to Gokdeniz Karadeniz and Bebras Natcho, and Chelsea were on the ropes in the final 15 minutes.

“It was a pity to lose the game but we went through and that’s the main thing,” said Chelsea’s interim manager Rafa Benitez, whose team reached its third semifinal — after the FA Cup and League Cup in England — of a grueling season.

Chelsea stayed on course to become only the fourth side to win all three of UEFA’s major club competitions — the European Cup/Champions League, European Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup/Europa League — along with Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich.

While Chelsea is no stranger to European semifinals, the same cannot be said of Basel and Fenerbahce, who are both in uncharted territory.

Tom Huddlestone and Emmanuel Adebayor failed to match Basel’s precision from the spot as Spurs were thrashed in the shootout 4-1, having scored late through Clint Dempsey to make it 2-2 and take the game into extra time. They played the extra 30 minutes with 10 men after Jan Vertonghen’s sending-off in second-half injury time but held on to force penalties with an aggregate score of 4-4.

An empty stadium was the background to Fenerbahce’s biggest result in Europe, with Caner Erkin’s powerful equalizer in the 73rd minute ending any hopes Lazio had of a comeback after Senad Lulic cut the Italians’ aggregate deficit to 2-1 in the 60th.

Benfica could only breathe easy after an injury-time goal by Eduardo Salvio, with Newcastle piling on the pressure in a one-sided second half and gaining its reward through Papiss Cisse’s header in the 71st.

That made it 2-1 on aggregate but the hosts couldn’t turn dominance into more goals and were hit by a devastating Benfica counterattack.

“You have to respect the opposition, they are a superb side,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said of the unbeaten Portuguese league leaders. “They have three or four players there that will be around in European football for 10 years.”

The draw for the semifinals takes place on Friday.

With Chelsea, Benfica and Fenerbahce all heading into their second legs protecting two-goal leads, the Basel-Tottenham match always looked like the tightest of the quarterfinals after a 2-2 draw in the first leg and so it proved.

Dempsey pounced on a defensive mistake by Aleksandar Dragovic to put Spurs ahead in the 23rd but Mohamed Salah, the tormentor of Tottenham in last week’s opening leg at White Hart Lane, added a ruthless edge to his mazy dribbling by toe-poking Basel level four minutes later.

Dragovic made amends for his earlier error to stab in from close range in the 49th, only for Dempsey to rescue Spurs with a shot that should have been kept out by Basel goalkeeper Yann Sommer in the 82nd.

With Vertonghen sent off for bringing down Marco Streller as the last man, Tottenham defended doggedly and its players were out on their feet by the end of extra time. Huddlestone took Spurs’ first penalty, which was saved by Sommer and Adebayor then sidefooted over, leaving Marcelo Diaz to stroke home the winning spot-kick, Basel’s fourth successful penalty in a row.

“We are disappointed not to go through because we had high ambitions for the competition,” Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said. “My first thoughts are for the players because they set for the country a great, great example.

“The way they have played in the Europa League this season, the way they have approached it, the way they played every Thursday and every Sunday, the commitment that they made to the competition showed the country that it was possible to approach it in a different way.”

Tottenham has lost its last seven penalty shootouts, stretching back to 1994.

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