Spanish fiesta gains momentum

Spanish fiesta gains momentum

Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Valencia power into semifinals

Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid overcame German opposition to reach the Europa League semifinals on Thursday while fellow Spaniards Valencia joined them by demolishing AZ Alkmaar.

Atletico Madrid's Falcao (left) celebrates with Diego after scoring against against Hanover 96 in their Europa League quarterfinal match on Thursday. AFP

Sporting completed an all-Iberian lineup by knocking out Metalist Kharkiv, who missed a penalty in a 1-1 draw in Ukraine allowing the Portuguese side go through 3-2 on aggregate.  Athletic, Manchester United’s conquerors in the previous round, played more of the entertaining football which is a hallmark of their eccentric coach Marcelo Bielsa as they drew 2-2 at home to Schalke 04 to qualify 6-4 on aggregate.

Atletico Madrid won 2-1 at Hanover 96 with an 87th minute winner from Radamel Falcao, last season’s top scorer in the competition playing for champions Porto, to complete a 4-2 aggregate win.

Adil Rami scored two early goals to set Valencia on their way to a 4-0 victory over AZ Alkmaar as they comfortably overturned a first-leg deficit to win 5-2 on aggregate.  Jordi Alba and Pablo Hernandez scored the other two goals.

Spain also has Barcelona and Real Madrid in the last four of the Champions League.
Leading 4-2 after their impressive win in Gelsenkirchen, Bielsa's Athletic side, 11th in La Liga, did it the hard way, twice coming from behind.

Bielsa’s nerves were on edge when Dutchman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar put Schalke ahead in the 29th minute with a low drive from the edge of the area, but Ibai Gomez levelled four minutes before the break at a typically exuberant San Mames.

Raul put Schalke back in front with a left-foot strike from 25 metres in the 52nd minute, giving the Germans renewed hope of an unlikely fightback.

It was short-lived, though, as Markel Susaeta burst forward to fire the equaliser three minutes later.

Atletico took a 2-1 lead to Germany and were happy to sit back until the 63rd minute when Adrian Lopez pounced to score a fine individual goal.

Mame Biram Diouf brought Hanover back into contention with an 81st minute equaliser but striker Falcao settled the match three minutes from time.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel headed Sporting in front just before halftime at Metalist, who hit back with a Jonathan Cristaldo goal in the 57th minute.

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