A thrilling climax to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals is in store on Thursday after the first-leg encounters produced three single-goal victories and an entertaining 2-2 draw.
Fulham FC, Hamburger SV and SL Benfica lead their respective ties yet the concession of an away goal by each means that VfL Wolfsburg, R. Standard de Liège and Liverpool FC will all fancy their chances of overturning 2-1 deficits on home soil. Liga rivals Valencia CF and Club Atlético de Madrid shared four goals at the Mestalla, meanwhile, leaving Los Rojiblancos coach Quique Sánchez Flores holding all the aces as he seeks to eliminate his former employers.
Liverpool must turn around their tie against Benfica, the Portuguese Liga leaders, without the suspended Emiliano Insúa and Ryan Babel. The five-time European champions have shown they can recover from a first-leg defeat – at LOSC Lille Métropole in the round of 16 – and still progress, but will be aware of their opponents' fondness for Merseyside: the Eagles won 2-0 at Everton during the group stage and triumphed by the same scoreline on their last visit to Anfield, in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League first knockout round.
The winners of that tie will meet either Atlético or Valencia, with the former now unbeaten in three games against their Liga counterparts this season, including a 4-1 victory at the Vicente Calderón in late February. Valencia, though, have lost only once in 11 UEFA club competition away games and, in David Villa and Juan Mata, boast a strike pairing with 11 goals between them in the tournament this term. That said, they will be unable to call upon Bruno Saltor and Éver Banega, who are both banned.
HSV remain on course to reach the last four for the second consecutive campaign, as well as the final at their own Arena Hamburg, after coming from behind to defeat Standard. Bruno Labbadia's team have nonetheless found life on the road tough in Europe and travel to Belgium seeking to end a run of three straight defeats, the most recent of which came against Standard's domestic rivals, RSC Anderlecht.
Leading 2-0 in the closing stages against Wolfsburg at Craven Cottage, Fulham looked set to establish the only two-goal lead until centre-back Alexander Madlung headed in powerfully a minute from time. With neither club having reached this far in UEFA competition before, the second leg − aside from being an intriguing prospect − already promises its own little slice of history.
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