The UEFA Europa League is down to a final four of FC Basel 1893, SL Benfica, Chelsea FC and Fenerbahçe SK. Though two of these teams have never come this far before, the other two can list European Cup successes on their CVs. UEFA.com examines their European highlights to date.
FC Basel 1893
Two-time European quarter-finalists, FCB have entered uncharted territory this season. The Swiss side's only foray into the final eight of the European Champion Clubs' Cup came in 1973/74, when they were 3-2 first-leg victors over Celtic FC but lost the return by the same scoreline and were eliminated in extra time. There was a similar pattern in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup when they were knocked out by Middlesbrough FC despite winning 2-0 at home. Three second-half goals from Middlesbrough in the rematch, the last in stoppage time, ended Basel's dream.
Last week's celebrations after finally taking that extra step are therefore understandable when placed into context. Navigating a route that has included FC Zenit St Petersburg and Tottenham Hotspur FC is no mean feat, proving that Basel reaching last term's UEFA Champions League round of 16 – at Manchester United FC's expense – was no fluke.
Benfica collected the European Champion Clubs' Cup twice, in 1961 and 1962, but the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League prize has been conspicuous by its absence from the Eagles' trophy cabinet. There have been two close calls. Two years ago they were eliminated by domestic rivals SC Braga in the last four; they got even further in 1983, succumbing 2-1 on aggregate in a two-legged final against RSC Anderlecht.
The European Cup has provided a different story. They triumphed in 1961, beating FC Barcelona 3-2, and the following season – inspired by Eusébio – defended their title against Spain's other titans as Real Madrid CF were overpowered 5-3. That final took place in Amsterdam, the city that hosts May's UEFA Europa League showpiece – an omen perhaps? Benfica have since participated in the decider five times and lost them all, most recently in 1989/90 when they went down 1-0 to AC Milan.
Despite lifting the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup twice, in 1971 and 1998, the UEFA Champions League was the trophy the Blues pined for after years of heartache. It looked like the footballing gods had deemed it would remain out of their grasp as the Londoners suffered several near misses. Four semi-final defeats between 2004 and 2009, and a final loss to Manchester United FC in 2008 – where Chelsea were a penalty kick away from claiming the trophy – were enough to make the most optimistic fan think the title may never be theirs.
However, last season the Stamford Bridge side overturned a 3-1 round of 16 first-leg deficit to knock out SSC Napoli, ousted FC Barcelona against the odds in the semi-finals, and then came from behind to eventually win the final on penalties against FC Bayern München on the German team's home ground. "Football, and life, is sometimes unpredictable and crazy. I don't think anyone could have predicted this," said then manager Roberto Di Matteo after Didier Drogba's clinching spot kick.
This UEFA Europa League campaign marks the first time Fenerbahçe have contested the semi-finals of a UEFA competiton. However, just five years ago when under the charge of Zico, they enjoyed a scintillating run to the last eight of Europe's elite club tournament, the UEFA Champions League. It was an adventure that started with a third qualifying round victory over RSC Anderlecht and finished with a 3-2 aggregate loss to Chelsea, but took in many memorable nights in between.
A 1-0 matchday one triumph over FC Internazionale Milano set the ball rolling, with draws with PFC CSKA Moskva (2-2) and PSV Eindhoven (0-0) consolidating their position in Group G. Subsequent wins against PSV and CSKA helped to earn them the runners-up spot, before an epic round of 16 clash with Sevilla FC. A 3-2 success at home was matched by Sevilla in Spain, leaving Volkan Demirel to emerge as the hero with three penalty shoot-out saves. Chelsea proved a step too far, though.
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