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Sports

Benfica, Sevilla take leads into second legs of Europa League semifinals

Benfica and Sevilla have both taken steps towards qualifying for the final of the Europa League with victories in their first leg matches. However, neither has an unassailable advantage.

Benfica, playing in their home stadium in Lisbon, sent their supporters into ecstasy and their opponents into shock when Ezequiel Garay (pictured celebrating) beat Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon with a header off a corner in just the second minute of play. Buffon reacted well, but could do little more than push the ball into the inside side netting, so swift and well-placed was Garay's effort.

Not long afterwards, Benfica had a decent chance to go 2-0 up and really put the pressure on the Italians, however Miralem Sulejmani blasted the ball well wide.

Juventus though, fought back through the rest of the half, seeking what for much of the match would be an elusive equalizer.

It was only in the 73rd minute that Argentine international Carlos Tevez was rewarded for his hard work as he barged into the area, and blased home a brilliant equalizer - even if he was a bit lucky to retain possession after a partial tackle from a Benfica defender.

For the next 11 minutes, it looked as if Juventus would be going home level, and with a slight advantage due to the away goals rule. In the 84th minute, though, Brazilian striker Lima gave last year's Europa League finalists victory, hammering the ball high into the net, overpowering the veteran, Buffon.

Double-salvo drives Sevilla

Thursday's other semifinal was an all-Spanish affair, which was decided in the space of four minutes in the first half.

Europa League Sevilla gegen Valencia

Sevilla made the difference in a hurry before the break

First, in the 33rd minute, former Schalke starter Ivan Rakitic floated a free kick from just outside the box through the area, before the ball fell to Stephane Mbia, who was completely unmarked near the far post. Struggling at first to control the ball, Mbia, who looked suspiciously like he may have been offside, then finished nicely with a back-heel to put Sevilla up 1-0.

Just moments later, Carlos Bacca stormed into the area before firing a low shot past the Valencia keeper to double his side's advantage.

Sevilla's keeper Beto was called into action late in the game, denying Valencia substitute Jonas on a point-black shot. Shortly afterwards, Beto got some help from the crossbar, as Eduardo Vargas's header struck the aluminum and bounced out harmlessly.

The return legs in both semifinals matches are scheduled for next Thursday; the final will be played in Turin, at Juventus' home ground, on May 14.