The Europa League and why it is so important to the remaining four teams

The Europa League has been deemed as a hindrance rather than an opportunity in some quarters of the English game – but the mentality seems to be completely different on the continent.

With this year’s competition at the semi-finals stage, there is no doubting that all four remaining teams have been going hammer and tongs to win the European tournament.

Placed at the top of their respective domestic leagues, Benfica and Juventus clashed in Portugal in the first semi-final last night.

In the end strikes from Ezequiel Garay and Lima on either side of a Carlos Tevez effort gave the hosts a slender 2-1 victory at the Estádio da Luz.

Jorge Jesus’ men travel to Turin knowing that a big performance is needed to keep the Serie A champions at bay.

After already being crowned as domestic champions, the Europa League is now Benfica’s priority – and a tournament they crave to win after recent near misses.

The Primeira Liga outfit were agonisingly beaten in the final by Chelsea last season and seem to be perennially in the latter stages of the competition. This may well be their year to finally lift the European second-tier trophy for the first time in their distinguished history.

With the final being played in Turin, Juventus know they have a fantastic opportunity to add European glory to their domestic success of recent years.

The back-to-back Scudetto-winning Bianconeri are within touching distance of making that three Serie A crowns in a row, but there is a feeling that Juve need to achieve success in Europe to define and venerate Antonio Conte’s managerial tenure.

Although dominant in Italy in recent seasons, Juventus have not replicated this in the Champions League.

To win the Europa League this term would add to the prestige of this special team. The Turin giants have not won a European competition since 1996 – too long for a club of their stature. Conte was part of the Juventus team that beat Ajax on penalties in the Champions League final 18 years ago.

Sevilla 2 Valencia 0In the other semi-final, a red-hot Sevilla side took the ascendancy with a 2-0 home victory over compatriots Valencia at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.

Two goals in three first-half minutes decided the first leg in the Rojiblancos’ favour, with Unai Emery’s men looking odds-on to make the final as a result. For the Sevilla coach it is an important win after spending four years in charge of the Mestalla outfit.

Sevilla are really the only side of the four with work to do domestically, with Emery’s men still in the hunt to finish in the top four of La Liga and make the Champions League for next term.

Despite this, the Andalusia-based club’s fans have a very special bond with the Europa League. Back-to-back successes in the tournament in 2006 and 2007 are Sevilla’s proudest moments in recent memory, and having beaten fierce local rivals Real Betis in the competition this year, a third-ever success would be etched into the history books.

For Valencia, the Europa League is the difference between an average campaign and a very successful one. Currently 14 points behind Sevilla in La Liga and destined for a mid-table finish, the European tournament is Los Che’s saving grace.

Opposite to Sevilla, Valencia have lost back-to-back European finals in the modern era. The Mestalla side were beaten in the Champions League decider in both 2000 and 2001 by Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively.

The club’s redemption on the continent came in 2004 with UEFA Cup success over Marseille, crowning a momentous double season for Rafa Benítez’s La Liga winning side.

A Europa League triumph this season would remind the Valencia fans of the glory days and take some of the doom and gloom away from a club that has been in demise over the last five years due to financial constraints.

Having four sides with excellent reasons to win this season’s Europa League makes for an exciting conclusion, with no hint of the competition taking a back seat on the priority list.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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