Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bilbao Face German Giants, Schalke

The first and second legs of the Europa League quarter-finals will be contested on March 29 and April 5, respectively, featuring representatives from the Ukraine, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Germany.

Diligent fans will have noticed that there are no British clubs in the final eight of the tournament, after both Manchester United and Manchester City followed up their Champions League exit with a similar escape from the Europa League.

United's 5-3 aggregate defeat to Basque club, Athletic Bilbao, last Thursday was the low point of an awkward season for the Red Devils, in which they failed to reach a cup final for the first time in a decade. Those looking at the Europa League betting will have been shocked.

City will perhaps count themselves the more unfortunate of the two Manchester clubs, given that they were sent packing despite a 3-2 win over Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese outfit won on away goals.

Bilbao have since been drawn against German team, Schalke 04, who progressed with a 4-2 aggregate defeat of Steve McClaren's club, FC Twente. In the second quarter-final match of the Europa League, Valencia face Dutch outfit, AZ Alkmaar.

Valencia dispatched PSV Eindhoven 5-3 on aggregate. The two clubs cancelled each other out in the second leg, recording a 1-1 draw. However, the Spaniards' previous 4-2 victory over the Dutch was enough to see them through to the quarters.

Manchester City's nemeses, Sporting Lisbon, will contest the third quarter-final with Metalist Kharkiv, a Ukrainian team who broke Greek hearts with their away goals victory over Olympiakos in the second leg, last week. Those who bet on football should bear this in mind.

Finally, Athletico Madrid will attempt to wrestle a place in the Europa League semi-finals away from German team, Hannover 96. The latter team steam-rolled Belgian club, Standard Liege, 6-2 on aggregate, while Madrid defeated the Turks, Besiktas.

In the semi-finals, the winner of Schalke vs. Bilbao will play the victor of Lisbon vs. Kharkiv. Equally, whoever takes the spoils from the AZ vs. Valencia match will take on the triumphant party in the Madrid vs. Hannover fixture, in what could ultimately be an all-Spanish affair.

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