Athletic Bilbao are a popular choice to win the Europa League this season after their fine performances against Manchester United in the previous round. However, they struggled to overcome Schalke in their first-leg tie and could have gone 3-1 down in the second half. A superb late rally with goals by Llorente, De Marcos and Miniain spared their blushes and they are now firmly back on track. Bilbao boss Marcelo Bielsa knows they were fortunate to come away with such a clear advantage and will be looking for a much better defensive display in front of their home fans.
Their most likely semi-final opponents are Sporting Lisbon but they still have work to do to reach the next round. At 2-0 through goals by Izmailov and Insua they looked comfortable but conceded a 90th minute penalty that was converted by Xavier to give Kharkiv hope for the return leg. It could be a costly mistake by Sporting who will be eliminated if they lose 1-0 in the second leg on the away goals rule. If they show the same quality that saw them dump English Premiership side Manchester City out of the competition they should still reach the semi-finals.
Valencia have to overturn a 2-1 deficit in their quarter-final tie with AZ Alkmaar of Holland. Although Valencia dominated large passages of play, it was the Dutch side who made the most of their opportunities and goals by Brett Harmen and Maarten Martens have given them a great chance of causing an upset. Valencia coach Unai Emery will now have to rally his side to put on a fine attacking performance to rest the initiative from their rivals. Valencia should still have the fire power to reach the semi-finals.
A late winner from Eduardo Salvio gave Atletico Madrid a vital 2-1 advantage in their first leg tie against Hannover. Falcao had put the home team ahead before Diouf scored a crucial away goal for the Germans. The Spaniards did not regain the lead until the 89th minute and now have the most slender of advantages to take to Hannover. The second leg promises to be a nail-biting affair but Atletico should still progress to give Spain three of the four semi-finalists. Hannover and AZ Alkmaar will do their very best to upset the odds but it will be a surprise if the Europa League is not heading to Spain this season.
Europa League quarter-final first-leg results;
AZ 2 Valencia 1
Atletico Madrid 2 Hanover 96 1
Schalke 2 Athletic Bilbao 4
Sporting 2 FC Metalist Kharkiv 1