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UEFA Europa League semi-finals: Were these the best ever?

Victories for Ajax, Atlético, Benfica, Chelsea, Marseille and Sevilla make our list of the most momentous last-four pairings since the first edition of the UEFA Europa League in 2009/10.

Diego Forlán rejoices with team-mates after Atlético's 2009/10 success against Liverpool
Diego Forlán rejoices with team-mates after Atlético's 2009/10 success against Liverpool AFP via Getty Images

Will this year's tie between West Ham and Frankfurt or Leipzig's meeting with Rangers be added to our list of the best semi-finals in the UEFA Europa League so far?

Ahead of the 2021/22 last-four meetings, UEFA.com turns back the clock to relive late drama and stellar comebacks.

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2009/10: Atlético 2-2agg Liverpool (1-0, 1-2aet - Atlético win on away goals)

Having scored the only goal in the first leg in Spain, Diego Forlán was the extra-time hero at Anfield too. Alberto Aquilani levelled the aggregate score, with Yossi Benayoun then putting Rafael Benítez’s side in front in extra-time, but former Man. United man Forlán broke the Reds, his finish from José Antonio Reyes’s cross securing an away-goals victory. "They made it very hard for us but I've scored a few times here now and I'm really happy," the Uruguayan said.

2010/11: Benfica 2-2agg Braga (2-1, 0-1 - Braga win on away goals)

Braga celebrate reaching the 2011 final
Braga celebrate reaching the 2011 finalAFP via Getty Images

Having scored Braga’s only goal in the 2-1 first-leg defeat, captain Vandinho was suspended for the return, but coach Domingos Paciência had faith in his unfancied side. "For a team outside Portugal's big three [Benfica, Porto and Sporting], it is great to be in this position," he said. Custódio’s header from a corner put Braga ahead on away goals after 19 minutes, but they then had to endure a lengthy pummelling before setting up an all-Portuguese final against Porto.

2011/12: Sporting 3-4agg Athletic Club (2-1, 1-3)

Athletic Club made it to their first European final in 35 years, Fernando Llorente firing in the decisive goal two minutes from time. Having lost 2-1 in Lisbon, the Bilbao side were set for extra time, Markel Susaeta and Ibai Gómez scoring either side of Ricky van Wolfswinkel's crisp strike for Sporting. "It was enough to make you want to cry," said match-winner Llorente. "It was a topsy-turvy tie and to be so, so close to the final wasn't easy. Thank God we got through."

2012/13: Fenerbahçe 2-3agg Benfica (1-0, 1-3)

Óscar Cardozo celebrates scoring Benfica's winner
Óscar Cardozo celebrates scoring Benfica's winnerGetty Images

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Benfica were left needing two goals to qualify after Dirk Kuyt’s penalty cancelled out Nicolás Gaitán’s early goal in Lisbon. Óscar Cardozo obliged with one in each half, the crucial one a fine finish following a long throw. "We had a plan B in case we were behind in the last minutes but it was not necessary," said Benfica boss Jorge Jesus. "That was good for the players because they deserve to be [in the final] in Amsterdam."

2013/14: Sevilla 3-3agg Valencia (2-0, 1-3 - Sevilla win on away goals)

Valencia were within seconds of completing a heroic turnaround against the UEFA Europa League masters, leading 3-0 at home after a 2-0 first-leg defeat until Stéphane Mbia headed the killer away goal four minutes into added time. “God, we made it!” beamed Carlos Bacca after the final whistle. "We fought until the last second with our strengths and weaknesses." Ivan Rakitić added: "There aren't words to explain this match. Thank God this match has gone so well."

2014/15 Napoli 1-2agg Dnipro (1-1, 0-1)

Highlights: Dnipro’s run to the final

Dnipro’s run to the semi-finals defied logic, but when faced with blue-riband opponents in Napoli, the Ukrainian side showed more resilience still; they snatched a 1-1 draw in Italy thanks to Yevhen Seleznyov’s late goal, and the same player struck again in the second leg to win it. “Nobody backed us,” said the goalscorer, who was a member of Shakhtar Donetsk's 2008/09 UEFA Cup-winning squad. "It's surprised everyone we've come this far."

2016/17: Ajax 5-4agg Lyon (4-1, 1-3)

After a 4-1 mauling in the first leg, Lyon decided to go for broke in France and came agonisingly close to winning. They conceded early at home, but Alexandre Lacazette struck twice in the space of a minute to reduce the arrears, and Rachid Ghezzal made it 3-1 on the night on 81 minutes before Nick VIergever’s dismissal set up a tense finale. "We ground it out with this young team," said relieved Ajax captain, Davy Klassen. "I have no words for it!"

2017/18: Marseille 3-2agg Salzburg (2-0, 1-2aet)

Highlights: Salzburg 2-1 Marseille (2-3 agg, AET)

The sides traded 2-0 home defeats over 90 minutes to set up extra-time in Austria, but up-and-coming Salzburg were denied, defender Rolando flicking in the winner from a corner. "Heroic" was the headline in the following morning’s edition of local paper La Provence. "The heart rate really climbed but we showed our character," said OM’s Dimitri Payet. "We knew that even if we’d gone three down that scoring once would have been enough. We stayed calm."

2017/18: Arsenal 1-2agg Atlético (1-1, 0-1)

Atlético ground out a 1-1 draw in London despite playing with ten men for 80 minutes, Antoine Griezmann cancelling out Alexandre Lacazette’s finish. Diego Costa’s finish in the second leg confirmed that the game would be Arsène Wenger’s last in Europe as Arsenal coach. "It's very sad, very, very, very sad," said Wenger. "Unfortunately you have to go through that. The game can be very cruel; sometimes very nice, but the suffering is very strong tonight."

2018/19: Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2agg Chelsea (1-1, 1-1aet - Chelsea win 4-3 on pens)

2019 Europa League flashback: Frankfurt vs Chelsea

Kepa Arrizabalaga saved two spot-kicks to take Maurizio Sarri’s Blues to the final, Adi Hütter’s Frankfurt having held them to 1-1 draws home and away in a tense tie. "We gave Chelsea as good as we've got and can keep our heads held high," said Frankfurt’s Danny da Costa afterwards. Arrizabalaga added: "It was not fair on Frankfurt. They were very good, a very, very strong team, but we are happy."

2019/20: Sevilla 2-1 Manchester United

COVID rules meant there was no crowd as the tie was settled over a single leg in Cologne; Bruno Fernandes’ penalty gave the Reds an early lead, but Suso replied before Luuk de Jong won it with a finish from Jesus Navas’ cross 12 minutes from the end. "The team plays good football, and when they don't, they work like crazy," said Sevilla’s Éver Banega at full-time, with coach Julen Lopetegui adding: "This was a team effort. If you beat a team like United, you have to do it as a unit."

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