- Europa League
Liverpool and Fulham seal semi spots in Europa League
Liverpool and Fulham helped restore the damaged reputation of English football on Thursday night when ensuring their participation in the Europa League semi-finals, where they will face Atletico Madrid and Hamburg respectively.
After seeing Arsenal and Manchester United eliminated from the Champions League this week - a fate that has already befallen Liverpool this season at the group stage - Rafa Benitez's side produced an emphatic performance to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg to beat Benfica 4-1 at Anfield on the night, 5-3 on aggregate.
Unbeaten in nine European games prior to Thursday night, Benfica were unable to replicate their performance in Lisbon and fell behind to first-half goals from Dirk Kuyt and Lucas. Fernando Torres added a third when converting following a sweeping move on the break and although Oscar Cardozo replied with a 70th-minute free kick, Torres scored his second of the night with eight minutes remaining when lifting his shot past Jose Moreira.
The striker, who now has 20 goals in all competitions this season, will come face-to-face with his boyhood club Atletico Madrid in the last four after they drew 0-0 with Valencia at Vicente Calderon, progressing on away goals following a 2-2 draw in the first leg at the Mestalla.
Both sides hit the post - with the normally prolific Diego Forlan and David Villa at fault - and the end of the tie was marked with controversy when referee Florian Meyer failed to award a penalty for a late incident involving Nikola Zigic, resulting in a furious reaction which saw Valencia coach Unai Emery sent to the stands.
Liverpool faced Atleti in the Champions League last season but Torres, who started his career with the capital club before moving to Anfield in 2007, did not feature in either game due to injury. His successor as Atletico's darling, Sergio Aguero, will miss the first leg due to suspension.
Fulham have also reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, for the first time in their history, after continuing their superb run in the competition with a 1-0 win in Wolfsburg, securing a 3-1 aggregate victory.
After disposing of Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in previous rounds, Fulham upset the odds once more and again it was Bobby Zamora who proved the difference when scoring his sixth goal of the European campaign after only 19 seconds of the game in Germany.
Both sides enjoyed a succession of chances, with Edin Dzeko hitting the post and Grafite seeing his follow-up expertly cleared off the line by Brede Hangeland, but it is Fulham who progress to the semi-finals where they will face another Bundesliga side in Hamburg.
Mladen Petric scored twice for Hamburg - the second a wonderful overhead kick - as they beat Standard Liege 3-1 in Belgium and 5-2 on aggregate. Igor De Camargo replied for Standard but Jose Paolo Guerrero, who is suspended from domestic competition after striking a spectator with a water bottle, completed the scoring in injury time.