By Terry Daley and Iain Rogers
Benfica kept alive their dream of a first European trophy in 52 years after a goalless draw with Juventus in Turin on Thursday helped the newly-crowned Portuguese champions win their Europa League semi-final 2-1 on aggregate.
Jorge Jesus’ side will return to Turin on May 14 to take on Sevilla in the final after restricting the Serie A leaders to a handful of chances, despite having to play for 23 minutes of the second leg clash with 10 men after Enzo Perez was sent off.
“We managed the advantage we had from the first leg really well and we deserve to be in the final because we were better than Juventus,” said Benfica coach Jesus.
The Portuguese side will be hoping to win their first continental title since 1962’s European Cup triumph, since when they have lost seven finals, including last season’s Europa League showpiece to Chelsea.
Juventus failed to take advantage of their territorial superiority in the first half or the extra man after the sending-off and their exit is a blow for Italy, whose teams have struggled on the continent in recent years.
Juventus coach Antonio Conte was annoyed with the away side’s defensive mindset and English referee Mark Clattenburg, who he felt should have given a penalty against Luisao for appearing to block Fernando Llorente’s 65th-minute header with his hand.
“They’re going through to the final, but I don’t think they deserved it,” said an irritated Conte.
“The only thing we missed was a goal. Over the course of the two legs we conceded two shots on target. We tried but tonight but we didn’t have the run of the ball.”
The home fans were celebrating with nine minutes remaining when Osvaldo tapped home Paul Pogba’s headed knockdown, but their joy was short-lived, with officials correctly ruling Frenchman Pogba offside.
Unused Juventus substitute Mirko Vucinic and Benfica’s Lazar Markovic, who had been taken off with minutes remaining, both received red cards for an off-pitch altercation as the bad-tempered match wound to a close.
Benfica were reduced to nine men after Ezequiel Garay was stretchered off during eight dramatic minutes of stoppage time and the Portuguese side’s keeper Jan Oblak made a fine save to keep out Martin Caceres’s header.
“Tonight we saw that in football the best team doesn’t always win,” Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci said.
Sevilla snatched a last-gasp place in the final when a 94th-minute Stephane Mbia header put them through on away goals after their semi-final against Valencia ended 3-3 on aggregate on Thursday.
Despite going down 3-1 in their second leg at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium, Mbia’s dramatic late strike set up a final showdown with Benfica.
Sevilla were favourites to advance against their La Liga rivals after winning last week’s first leg 2-0 at home but a 14th-minute Sofiane Feghouli effort, an own goal from goalkeeper Beto in the 26th and a Jeremy Mathieu blast 21 minutes from time put Valencia 3-0 ahead on the night and 3-2 ahead overall.
They were just over a minute away from going through to the final when Federico Fazio flicked on a long throw and Cameroon midfielder Mbia rose to crash a header into the net and silence the Valencia fans packed into the Mestalla.
It was a triumph for Sevilla coach Unai Emery, who never completely won over the Valencia fans when he was in charge there from 2008 to 2012, and he celebrated Mbia’s goal wildly on the side of the pitch.
“This is a unique experience,” Emery said in an interview with Spanish television.
“We don’t care who we are playing in the final, we just have to enjoy this,” added the 42-year-old former Real Sociedad midfielder.