Europa semis: Dnipro plays Napoli, Fiorentina vs Sevilla
MOSCOW (AP) — Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk has home advantage to extend its remarkable run in the Europa League to the final, while titleholder Sevilla holds a commanding lead over Fiorentina and just needs to see out the win on Thursday.
Napoli was the overwhelming favorite at home to Dnipro in their semifinal first leg last week, but was left frustrated when substitute Yevhen Seleznyov scored a late equalizer for a 1-1 draw.
That set up a tense deciding leg in Kiev, where Dnipro must play its European home games due to UEFA security concerns over the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The away goals rule means a goalless draw would see Dnipro reach the May 27 final in Warsaw, Poland.
Sevilla is all but confirmed for the final after beating Fiorentina 3-0 at home, and faces an injury-weakened Italian team away.
That would put Sevilla on course to a record fourth title in the competition. Plus, for the first time, the Europa League winner will qualify for the next edition of the Champions League, a big potential boost for a Sevilla team which sits fifth in the Spanish league, outside the Champions League spots.
Here is a look at both matches:
For a team that has played for more than a year in the shadow of war, Dnipro is holding up well.
The team is one step away from its first European final, even though it has had to play all of its home games in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, 250 miles north-west of Dnipropetrovsk.
Dnipro’s hometown in eastern Ukraine is well outside the area devastated by the conflict, and the club has held domestic league games there, but UEFA refuses to allow Dnipro to host European games in Dnipropetrovsk. Home fans face a five-hour drive just to get to the Napoli game, yet there has been a rush for tickets, and the game will be a sellout.
Coach Miron Markevych is trying to keep his players grounded, and their thoughts away from mixed domestic form that has hurt their bid for Champions League qualification. Following a 2-0 loss to Zarya Luhansk on Sunday, he said, “I just got the team together and calmed them down.”
Napoli’s preparations have been disturbed by controversy stemming from a 2-2 draw with last-place Parma in Serie A on Sunday.
Parma goalkeeper Antonio Mirante reportedly claimed Napoli forward Gonzalo Higuain asked Parma to give up, since the bankrupt squad was already relegated.
And Napoli coach Rafa Benitez was suspended for this weekend’s match against Cesena for using an expletive to describe all of Italian football. Benitez has made it clear he is considering a return to the English Premier League, but Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has been urging the Spaniard to sign an extension.
Sevilla forward Iago Aspas is particularly keen to impress in the return leg at Fiorentina. On loan from Liverpool, he wants the Spanish side to pay the 7 million euros ($7.9 million) required to make him a permanent player.
At Liverpool, Aspas found it hard to get minutes on the pitch, with stiff competition from Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. “I did not have the playing time that I wanted,” he said.
However, he has kept a close eye on how Suarez has fared at Barcelona, and clearly would like to emulate him. Aspas has 10 goals in 909 minutes played.
“I was proud to play with him. I am not at all surprised how things are going for him at Barcelona. Training with him day to day, I saw the player he was.”
Aspas said that despite being injured for a month, he had been able to contribute to helping Sevilla stay in contention.
Fiorentina defender Micah Richards and winger Juan Vargas have been ruled out due to thigh muscle tears, while Nenad Tomovic, another defender, is questionable with a minor injury.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Rome and Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.