Europa League holders Sevilla silence Viola in thrilling semi-final
Defending Europa League champions Sevilla produced another captivating display at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to overcome Vicenzeo Montella’s Fiorentina, with makeshift full back Aleix Vidal striking twice to help earn a 3-0 first leg victory in an enthralling semi-final clash.
Attacking Spanish threat Vidal was deployed in an unfamiliar wing back position, but dazzled on the right flank to bag a brilliant brace to keep hopes alive of securing a second successive European crown for Unai Emery’s Bathtubs, with late second-half substitute Kevin Gameiro grabbing a vital third just 26 seconds after being introduced.
Sevilla started brightly, but the Viola’s Spanish expat Borja Valero gradually grew into the game, threatening through the middle and almost sending midfield partner Matia Fernandez on his way into the hosts’ penalty area, only to be crowded out by a sea of white shirts.
It didn’t take long for another chance to emerge, with wing wizard Joaquin Sanchez, another Spaniard at the Florentine team, bursting from his familiar left flank position to play former Bayern Muninch marksman Mario Gomez through on goal. The German frontman blazed his shot high and wide, however to give Sevilla another early reprieve.
Stephane M’Bia, a familiar face for QPR fans, showed great great strength moments later to charge into Fiorentina’s danger area, but the midfield powerhouse was unable to cause any threat to Neto’s goal.
Colombia international forward Carlos Bacca came into this European encounter on the back of an impressive 25-goal campaign to date, and the in-form attacker was agonisingly close to adding to that sublime tally after just 13 minutes. He was inches away from connecting with a dangerously driven cross from Vidal on the right wing.
Emery’s outfit have become well-renowned for their deadly breaking attacking abilities this season, and the kings of the counter proved their credentials again when Vidal switched from provider to finisher, to open the scoring after 17 minutes.
The makeshift full back, in his debut season with Sevilla, clinically capped off another swift breaking move, with Bacca providing the key pass after a rapid burst from Benoit Tremoulinas down the left.
Montella’s men almost responded immediately, but Fernandez somehow calamitously managed to miss the target from only six yards out, before being thwarted again soon after when the towering presence of Sergio Rico halted any threat, rushing out to block the Chilean’s attempt.
Both sides continued to pile pressure on each other in a free-flowing game, as Fiorentina threatened again with on-loan Chelsea wideman Mohamed Salah becoming the latest victim of a great save by Sevilla stopper Rico.
The Serie A side continuously shifted their attacking play towards a favoured left flank, with Joaquin appearing as the most likely source of creating an equaliser, much to the dismay of the Bath Tubs faithful, following his previous six-year spell at rivals Real Betis.
Rico was twice called into action again before the break, with two consecutive Fernandez crosses from deep on the left wing forcing the Spaniard to punch clear before Gomez or Gonzalo Javier Rodriguez could convert such a dangerous delivery.
A moment of controversy came on the stroke of half-time when Former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic clumsily took down Grzegorz Krychowiak in the box, following a miss-kick form the Poland international, but referee Felix Brych had already blew his whistle, as Sevilla held a slender half-time lead.
After an engrossing first period, Micah Richards was introduced to proceedings and instantly put under severe pressure as Vidal slotted home his second of the night, comfortably rolling past a poorly positioned Neto to double Sevilla’s advantage.
The goalscorer was given much more freedom when Jose Antonio Reyes departed proceedings, with Vidal switching to a more usual advanced role on the right wing. Such a tactical decision prospered as Montella’s Viola found it extremely difficult to contain wicked wingplay from the hosts.
French forward Gameiro added a touch of gloss to Sevilla’s imminent victory, dispatching from close range after just 26 of being brought on to replace Bacca, as the holders edged ever closer to retaining their European title.
Elsewhere, in the other semi-final match-up, Rafael Bentiez’s Napoli were held to a 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico by stubborn Ukrainian outfit Dnipro. Yevhen Seleznyov’s late away goal cancelled out an opener from David Lopez to leave the Little Donkey’s with much work still to do.