Pirlo puts Juventus into Europa quarters
By Steve Douglas ,AP
March 22, 2014, 12:08 am TWN
Andrea Pirlo's sumptuous free kick earned Juventus a place in the Europa League quarterfinals, where the competition favorites were joined in an attractive lineup by Sevilla after its penalty-shootout win over fierce Spanish rival Real Betis on Thursday.
Portuguese sides Benfica and Porto also advanced to the last eight while Basel overcame an early red card to win 2-1 at Salzburg and progress from a last-16 second leg that was briefly suspended because of crowd trouble.
Lyon, Valencia and AZ Alkmaar will also be in Friday's draw in Nyon, Switzerland, where the team to avoid will be Juventus — even though the Italian champions made heavy work of their all-Italian last-16 match against Fiorentina.
Having drawn 1-1 at home in the first leg, Juve was staring at elimination on the away-goals rule until Fiorentina defender Gonzalo Rodriguez was dismissed in the 69th minute for a second booking. From the resulting free kick at the edge of the area, Pirlo stepped up and whipped a brilliant strike into the top corner to seal a 1-0 win.
The classy Italy midfielder shows no sign of decline at the age of 34 — he scored a similarly sublime free kick for his team in a last-gasp league win over Genoa on Sunday, which kept Juve 14 points clear in Serie A and on course to defend its title.
Juventus will be hosting the Europa League final on May 14 and the runaway Italian league leader may yet be playing in the showpiece match in front of its own fans.
Sevilla overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit courtesy of goals by Jose Antonio Reyes and Carlos Bacca, earning a 2-0 win that sent the match to penalties.
Sevilla's first spot kick by Vitolo was saved but Alfred N'Diaye and Nono failed to find the target with Betis' last two attempts, putting the two-time winners through 4-3 on penalties.
Benfica remained on course for a return to the final after surviving a late fightback by Tottenham to draw 2-2 in their second leg and advance 5-3 on aggregate.