The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Juventus needs to overturn 1st-leg deficit to Benfica to reach Europa League final in Turin
TURIN, Italy - Tournament favourite Juventus and Valencia will be looking to their home fans to help them overturn first-leg deficits on Thursday and reach the Europa League final.
Juventus trails Benfica 2-1 entering its second-leg match in its Turin stadium, which will also host the May 14 final, while Valencia trails Sevilla 2-0 in an all-Spanish affair.
Here are five things to know about the semifinals:
CONTE'S DILEMMA: Juventus has not reached a European final since the 2003 Champions League final when it lost to Italian rival AC Milan on penalties, and the Turin club's coach is anticipating what the critics will say if they win — or lose — this tournament.
"If we're able to win the Europa League everyone will say that it's a minor cup," Conte said after Juve beat Sassuolo 3-1 on Monday in Serie A. "And if we lose then they'll say we're not ready for Europe yet."
SEVILLA FOCUS: Sevilla coach Unai Emery expects his team to pick itself up quickly after losing its chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Sevilla's 3-1 loss at Athletic Bilbao saw it slip six points behind the fourth-place Basque club, effectively ending its qualifying options with just three games remaining.
"Thursday will be the next step in improving what needs to be improved," Emery said after Sunday's defeat, which ended a five-game winning streak in all competitions. "We need to understand the loss, the team needs to do well the things it did badly (against Athletic)."
Sevilla reached the final in 2006 when it won its second straight UEFA Cup — the former incarnation of the competition.
"We have an advantage on the first result. No doubt of that," Emery said. "But this is something to be continued."
TITLE HUNTING: One goal could be enough to book Juventus a place in the final but Benfica is intent on improving its runner-up finish from last season.
Juventus is hoping that the euphoria of reaching the final will carry over to Monday when it can clinch its third straight Serie A title with a home win over Atalanta.
Benfica already sealed the Portuguese title earlier this month.
Juve can become the third side since the UEFA Cup final became a one-off match in 1997-98 to compete in the showpiece at their home stadium. Feyenoord triumphed in Rotterdam in 2002-03 but Sporting Lisbon lost at home in 2004-05.
BOUNCE BACK KIDS: Valencia will have to just about emulate its Europa League quarterfinal triumph to advance to its first final since winning the UEFA Cup in 2004.
Valencia lost 3-0 at Basel before winning 5-0 at home in the return leg to reach the semifinals, a possibility Sevilla coach Unai Emery is looking to avoid.
"They are capable of reversing this result. They have done it before," Emery said. "We know that they can because of experience. We need to go there to win."
Valencia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi remains frustrated that his team is winless in the three games since its rout of Basel.
"(Sevilla) is a team that is very comfortable playing a certain way. We can't fall into that trap," said Pizzi, who does not expect to have forward Pablo Alcacer back despite appealing his mystifying red card to UEFA.
"The way UEFA acts, I don't expect the appeal to succeed."
UPWARD TRAJECTORY: Benfica is steadily improving in the Europa League.
The Eagles reached the quarterfinals in 2009-10, the semifinals in 2010-11 and — after a one-season absence — last season's final.
However, Benfica is the only club in the semifinals never to have won Europe's second-tier cup, having lost to Anderlecht in 1982-83 and to Chelsea last year.
AP Sports Writer Paul Logothetis in Madrid contributed.
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