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Europa League preview: Bilbao continue bid to reclaim title

29 March 2012 06:12

Athletic Bilbao will look to continue their dream run in the Europa League when they tackle Schalke in their quarter-final on Thursday.

Marcelo Bielsa's side progressed to the last eight of the competition for the first time since 1977 after upsetting English Premier League giants Manchester United in the round of 32, winning both legs of the tie against Sir Alex Ferguson's men.

Having already beaten Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, Bilbao have shown they are capable of going all the way in this competition, particularly if star striker Fernando Llorente is fit and firing.

However, German outfit Schalke have their own striker capable of causing defenders headaches - Dutchman Klass-Jan Huntelaar.

Huntelaar is the leading scorer in the Europa League this season with nine goals, including hat-tricks in the last two rounds.

However, Huntelaar is aware of the threat posed by Bilbao.

"I saw Athletic against Manchester United," he told Kicker. "They played like Barcelona; it was extraordinary."

Sporting Lisbon will be considered favourites in their quarter-final tie against Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv, particularly after Ricardo Sa Pinto's side beat Manchester City in the previous round.

Metalist, on the other hand, were fortunate to get past Olympiakos, scoring twice in the final nine minutes of the second leg in Greece to win the tie on away goals.

However, Myron Markevich's men have scored more goals than any other team in the Europa League (25), and will prove a handful for Sporting's defence in the first leg in Lisbon.

Eredivisie leaders AZ Alkmaar host Valencia in the first leg of their last-eight tie having not lost in their last eight home matches in Europe.

However, with just one win in their past 17 European away matches, AZ will be determined to go into the second leg with a decent lead.

That could be a tough ask against Valencia, who are unbeaten so far this season in the Europa League, although Unai Emery's side have lost twice in the space of four days in La Liga in the lead-up to Thursday's match.

The final last-eight tie pits Atletico Madrid against German side Hannover, with the first leg to be played at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.

Atletico became the first club to win the revamped Europa League in 2009/10, and cruised through the round of 32 this campaign with a 6-1 aggregate win over Besiktas.

Hannover are competing in Europe for just the second time, and if they can leave Spain with a decent, they will be confident of winning the tie having never lost at home in UEFA competition.

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Info

AZ

L W L L W

2 - 1

Competition
UEFA Europa League
Date
29 March 2012
Kick-off
21:05
Half-time
1 - 0
Full-time
2 - 1
On aggregate
2 - 5
Venue
AFAS Stadion (Alkmaar)
Attendance
16100

Goals

B. Holman 45'+1
(assist by M. Martens) 
1 - 0
1 - 1
52' M. Topal
 (assist by Ricardo Costa)
M. Martens 79'
(assist by B. Holman) 
2 - 1

Lineups

Substitutes

# Player Bookings
7
14
6
11
13
18
21

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