Home Sports Martinez the hero as Villa reach Europa Conference League semi-finals

Martinez the hero as Villa reach Europa Conference League semi-finals

by editor

Emiliano Martinez was the hero as Aston Villa booked their place in the UEFA Europa Conference League semi-finals with a dramatic 4-3 penalty shootout win against Lille.

Villa, leading 2-1 from last Thursday’s quarter-final first-leg at Villa Park, looked to be heading out of the competition when goals in either half from Yusef Yazici and Benjamin Andre put the French side 2-0 ahead, and 3-2 on aggregate.

But Matty Cash pulled a late goal back to send the tie into extra-time, and then penalties, where Martinez produced two stunning saves from Nabil Bentaleb and Andre to book Villa’s place in the last four.

Villa will now face Olympiacos in their first major European semi-final since 1982. The first leg will be at Villa Park on Thursday 2 May before travelling to Greece for the second leg, which takes place on Thursday 9 May. LOSC Lille 2-1 Aston Villa (3-4 on pens) 

There was disappointment for both Liverpool and West Ham United, who bowed out of the UEFA Europa League.

Mohamed Salah’s seventh-minute penalty secured a 1-0 win for Liverpool at Atalanta, but the Reds were beaten 3-1 on aggregate, while David Moyes’ West Ham drew 1-1 with newly-crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen, also losing 3-1 on aggregate.

Michail Antonio had put the Hammers ahead, but a late shot by Jeremie Frimpong took a wicked deflection off Aaron Cresswell to extend Leverkusen’s unbeaten run to 44 matches.

How Villa’s match unfolded

There were two changes to the Villa side that won 2-0 at Arsenal, with Cash returning to the defence in place of Diego Carlos, while Douglas Luiz replaced Morgan Rogers in midfield. Teenagers Finley Munroe and Omari Kellyman were among six Villa players aged 21 or under on the substitutes’ bench.

Unai Emery’s side got off to a slow start and Lille were back level in this quarter-final after 16 minutes through a fine sidefooted finish by Yazici from Gabriel Gudmundsson’s cut-back.

Although Villa dominated possession in the opening half, 63 per cent to the 37 cent of Lille, they failed to register a single shot on target.

Indeed it took until the 58th minute for Emery’s side to threaten Lille’s defence, but Cash fired into the side-netting following a neat one-two with John McGinn.

That miss proved costly and Lille took full advantage, Andre heading home Hakon Haraldsson’s 67th-minute corner at the near post to turn the tie on its head and put them ahead 3-2 on aggregate.

Positive reponse

Emery responded by bringing on Leon Bailey for Moussa Diaby, and then Jhon Duran for McGinn in a bid to get back in the tie.

Cash’s thunderous 30-yard drive was tipped away for a corner by Lucas Chevalier and Bailey shot straight at the goalkeeper after Lille failed to clear the resulting corner as Villa cranked up the pressure.

Villa finally found the breakthrough with four minutes remaining when Watkins’ clipped cross was dropped by Chevalier under pressure from his own player and Cash rifled home the loose ball to make it 2-1 on the night, and 3-3 on aggregate.

After a goalless period of extra time, penalties were required. Youri Tielemans, Watkins, Cash and Douglas Luiz scored for Villa, with Martinez’s two magnificent saves ensuring Villa’s passage through to the semi-finals.

Villa are back in action on Sunday, hosting AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League, and will be looking to open up a six-point gap on Tottenham Hotspur in fifth, with Ange Postecoglou’s side facing a blank weekend.

How Liverpool’s match unfolded

Jurgen Klopp made six changes from the first leg, with a return for Salah, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Dominik Szoboszlai and Luis Diaz.

Former Arsenal defender Sead Kolasinac was one of two changes to Atalanta’s starting XI from their 3-0 Anfield triumph.

Liverpool got off to a dream start when Salah sent goalkeeper Juan Musso the wrong way from the penalty spot after seven minutes following a handball by Matteo Ruggeri.

That signalled a frenzy of goalmouth activity as Musso raced off his line to deny Diaz, and then kept out Szoboszlai’s long-range drive.

Salah lofted well wide when put through one-on-one before the break, but Liverpool struggled to create any meaningful openings in the second half.

Klopp’s side will swiftly turn their attention back to their title challenge, and Sunday’s trip to Fulham, where a win would see Liverpool return to the top of the Premier League table. Liverpool eliminated from Europa League despite second-leg win over Atalanta 

How West Ham’s match unfolded

There were three changes to the West Ham side who were beaten 2-0 in Germany in the first leg. Lucas Paqueta and Emerson missed out through suspension, while Konstantinos Mavropanos was ruled out through injury. There was, however, a welcome return from injury for Jarrod Bowen, with Nayef Aguerd and Edson Alvarez also coming in.

West Ham started with intent and took the lead after 13 minutes when Bowen whipped in a superb cross for Antonio, who beat goalkeeper Matej Kovar to the ball and headed into an empty net.

Bowen had a great chance to level the tie, but fired straight at Kovar after Mohammed Kudus had picked him out at the back post with a sublime floated delivery.

West Ham kept the pressure on but they were forced into a reshuffle when the injured Aguerd was replaced by Angelo Ogbonna in first-half stoppage-time.

Urged on by a raucous London Stadium crowd, West Ham continued to press in search of a second goal to force extra time, but it was Leverkusen who levelled in the 89th minute to make it 3-1 on aggregate.

Frimpong made amends for a miss moments earlier when he cut inside on the left, created an angle and his shot deflected off Cresswell’s back and beyond Lukasz Fabianski.

Leverkusen will now meet Brighton & Hove Albion’s conquerors Roma, who knocked out AC Milan, in the last four.

West Ham return to Premier League action on Sunday with a derby at Crystal Palace, kicking off at 15:00 BST.

Source: https://www.premierleague.com/news/3971961

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