With the UEFA Europa League entering its quarter-final stage, the competition has reached fever pitch and, as UEFA.com discovers, every participant will have reason to believe this could be their year.
FC Basel 1893
Sure, they have never got to a European semi-final before, nor has a Swiss club ever lifted a major UEFA trophy, but this may yet be Basel's moment. The only reigning domestic champion left in the competition, they have significant experience: midfielder David Degen has played more UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League games than any player still in contention (44) while striker Alexander Frei – who retires this summer – has scored more UEFA club competition goals than any remaining player (32). Moreover, Murat Yakin, like all three previous UEFA Europa League-winning coaches, is in his first season at his club.
The only team to have won all four of their UEFA Europa League matches since the turn of the year, the Eagles can take comfort from the fact their last-eight opponents Newcastle United FC lost to Benfica's Lisbon neighbours Sporting Clube de Portugal – who featured current Benfica midfielder Carlos Martins – when they last made it to the quarter-finals of this competition in 2004/05. Should Jorge Jesus's side progress and be paired with Tottenham Hotspur FC in the semis, it could be destiny. When Benfica won the 1961/62 European Champion Clubs' Cup, they beat Tottenham in the last four and then triumphed in the final in – where else? – Amsterdam.
The Londoners have experience on their side: a UEFA Cup winner with Valencia CF in 2003/04, Chelsea boss Rafael Benítez has handled his various teams in 134 UEFA competition games – by far the most of any of the quarter-finals coaches. Moreover, the only three players in the last eight to have played more than 100 UEFA competition games are all Stamford Bridge residents: Frank Lampard (112), Petr Čech and Ashley Cole (both 102). The European champions can become the first English side to complete a clean sweep of major UEFA club titles with success in the UEFA Europa League – and they have never lost a home match in the UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League, though admittedly they have played just six of them.
After accounting for FC Viktoria Plzeň in the round of 16, the Yellow Canaries have now figured in the last eight of all three leading UEFA competitions, having reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in 2007/08 and the European Cup Winners' Cup equivalent in 1963/64. While they have never played in a semi-final before, they may yet be in line to become the second Turkish team to land a major European trophy. Their arch-rivals Galatasaray AŞ beat Arsenal FC on penalties to win the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup – could Aykut Kocaman's men match their neighbours' feat with victory against the Gunners' north London nemesis, Spurs?
The omens are good ahead of their tie with Fenerbahçe. Lazio coach Vladimir Petković has yet to lose against Kocaman's side with two former employers (BSC Young Boys and Samsunspor) while all six of the Yellow Canaries' previous games in Italy have ended in defeats by two goals or more. UEFA Cup runners-up in 1997/98, Lazio may have the ammunition to take it a step further this time – they are the tournament's top scorers with 19 goals, boast the eight-goal leading marksman in Libor Kozák and are the only side left who have not lost a UEFA Europa League game this term. Lazio's Brazilian defender André Dias, meanwhile, celebrates his birthday on the day of the UEFA Europa League final ...
Newcastle United FC
... as does Newcastle centre-back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and there are good reasons to believe he will be ending the day as a UEFA Europa League winner at the Amsterdam ArenA, where Magpies' midfielder Vurnon Anita celebrated Dutch titles with AFC Ajax in 2010/11 and 2011/12. Newcastle do not score many goals – a mere nine since the start of the group stage – but they have the competition's most miserly defence. Tellingly, they have not conceded in their last four UEFA Europa League outings, while their opponents Benfica have lost all five of their past quarter-final encounters with English clubs.
FC Rubin Kazan
The darkest of dark horses, Rubin went into the last 16 as one of three Russian representatives in the UEFA Europa League, but were the only Premier-Liga team to make it to the last eight. Though Kurban Berdyev's charges have never contested a European quarter-final before, they have some impressive stats – they head for Chelsea undefeated in five European away games this season. Moreover, having seen off UEFA Europa League holders Club Atlético de Madrid in the round of 32, who is to say they will not eliminate the European champions en route to glory in Amsterdam.
Tottenham Hotspur FC
Spurs lifted the UEFA Cup in 1971/72 and 1983/84 and have more recent know-how in their ranks too – boss André Villas-Boas won the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League in his first full campaign with FC Porto. First time could be the charm again for the Portuguese coach – and as he will remember from his Porto days, both preceding editions of the UEFA Europa League in which three sides from the same nation reached the last eight were decided by finals involving two of those teams. Should that be an all-London affair against Chelsea, Tottenham could feel confident having beaten the Blues 2-1 to win the 1966/67 FA Cup and 2007/08 League Cup finals.
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