Former Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez faces a tough test in the Europa League semifinal as his Fiorentina team take on defending champions Sevilla. In the other semifinal, Napoli take on Ukrainian surprise Dnipro.
Mario Gomez returns to Sevilla's Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan for the first time since October 2008. Back then, he was Stuttgart's 23-year-old leading light who finished the season with 34 goals in all competitions. His visit to Sevilla seven years ago ended in defeat and although Stuttgart followed their Spanish conquerors out of the group, their UEFA Cup campaign ended in the round of 32. This time, Germany's forgotten striker appears to have found his way back into goalscoring form after a plague of injuries and, wearing the purple of Fiorentina, he's two games away from the final.
"In Spain we will play to win. Victories boost your morale and we needed that on Sunday because it will make us fit for the semi-final," said Fiorentina head coach Vincenzo Montella after his team ended a run of four straight league defeats when they beat Cesena 3-1 last weekend. Gomez was rested for Thursday night's first leg.
The former Bayern Munich striker isn't the only German in the semifinals though. Referee Dr. Felix Brych, who was in charge of last year's Europa League final, will referee the first leg. Host Sevilla, who won last year's final on penalties against Benfica, are looking for their fourth Europa League title. The Spanish side were also the last ones to defend the trophy, and are looking to repeat their feat from 2007 eight years on. If they do, they will also become the first side ever to have lifted Europe's second competition trophy four times.
Underdogs against Italian favorites
In the other semifinal, Dnipro, who have to play their home games in Kiev due to political instability in Ukraine, head to Italy to play Napoli in the club's first ever European semifinal. Dnipro are second in the Ukrainian league and want to keep their fairytale going as long as possible.
"Few people believed we could get this far at the beginning of the season but now we are just a couple of steps from the final, they are looking at us very differently," midfielder Valeriy Fedorchuk said after the draw.
Despite impressively dispatching of German side Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals, Napoli head coach Rafael Benitez doesn't believe his team has an advantage against minnows Dnipro: "When you reach a European semi-final it means you are a top-level side," said Benitez. Currently fourth in Serie A, Napoli are only four points off third. Winning the Europa League would take the pressure off their league finish, as it would guarantee automatic qualification for next year's Champions League. It could also set up the tournament's first all-Italian final since 1998 when Inter Milan beat Lazio.