Quarter-finals: Second LegBy: Dan | April 5th, 2012
The second leg of the Europa League quarter finals always seems to be alive with possibilities, probably because they occur the day after the Champions League quarter finals when the usual clubs have entrenched their place in the semi finals for another year.
The return leg of Hannover 96 – Atletico Madrid was the match served up for live, US television. The Spanish club held a slim, 2-1 lead from the first leg, as they sought to claim a place in the last four for the second time in three seasons, while Hannover came into the match without having lost a home match this season.
Both sides started with attacking conviction, but despite the willingness to go forward, and the counter attack opportunities afforded, there was no threat to either keeper in the early stages.
By the twenty minute mark, the match had settled into a lull. Atletico, holding the aggregate lead, had no need to risk anything in search of another goal, while Hannover, it has to be said, didn’t look especially convincing with the onus on them to produce a goal.
Hannover actually seemed to get worse as the half wore on, degenerating from cagey to outright sloppiness. Atletico were content to soak up Hannover’s attacks, if you could even call them that, as the stupor inducing first half came to a conclusion.
The second half, unfortunately, continued the pattern established in the first half. By the hour mark, a harmless header from a corner kick that fell harmlessly into the arms of Atletico keeper Thibaut Courtois was the only danger that Hannover could muster.
The match was finally broken open by Atletico Madrid in the 63rd minute. Adrian Lopez latched onto a ball sent over the top of the Hannover defense, and in close quarters maneuvered his way across the box past Emanuel Pogatetz, Christian Pander, and the flailing goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler before calmly sliding the ball home to give Atletico an ironclad advantage in the tie.
With time dwindling away, Hannover finally demonstrated a sense of urgency that had been lacking for so much of this match. Mame Biram Diouf was found in space inside the Atletico box, and he shot low past Courtois to bring Hannover back within one goal.
Hannover’s hopes were short lived. The German side was forced to throw everything forward in search of the goal that would take the tie to extra time, leaving Atletico Madrid acres of space to make use of on the counter attack. A familiar face in the Bundesliga, former Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg man Diego found an unmarked Falcao with a perfect chipped pass. The Colombian striker blasted the ball past a helpless Zieler to extinguish Hannover’s hopes for good.
Even the most generous observers would have to admit that AZ have been riding their luck throughout their journey through the knockout rounds, but there was no let off for the Eredivisie side tonight. As they did in the first leg, Valencia dominated the proceedings and piled the pressure on AZ. Goals from Pablo Hernandez, Jordi Alba and Adil Rami earned the hosts a decisive victory, and a place in the semi finals.
A late goal for Metalist Kharkiv in the first leg gave the Ukrainian side hope as they returned home for the second leg. Despite seizing control of the match from the outset, it was Sporting that scored first, as Ricky van Wolfswinkel struck a minute before halftime. Cristaldo struck back for Metalist in the second half, but a missed penalty by Metalist in the 64th minute that would have leveled the tie on aggregate proved decisive.
Athletic Bilbao won even more admirers after a storming victory over Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen in the first leg. They continued to impress, but Schalke, to their credit, did not go away quietly. The Bundesliga side took the lead after 29 minutes through Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who made the most of a misplaced pass, but Ibai Gomez struck back for Athletic with a stunning long distance strike shortly before halftime. Raul retook the lead for Schalke in the 52nd minute with a volley reminiscent of his goal in the first leg, but the advantage was short lived, as Markel Susaeta was played in down the right wing by Iker Munian, and Lars Unnerstall was beaten at the near post.
Valencia 4 – AZ Alkmaar 0 (AZ 2 – Valencia 5)
Athletic Bilbao 2 – Schalke 04 2 (Schalke 4 – Athletic Bilbao 6)
Metalist Kharkiv 1 – Sporting CP 1 (Sporting 3 – Metalist 2)
Hannover 96 1 – Atletico Madrid 2 (Atletico Madrid 4 – Hannover 2)