PARIS - Benfica and Sevilla grabbed vital first leg leads in their Europa League semi-final clashes on Thursday leaving Juventus and Valencia to try and claw back deficits next week. Brazilian striker Lima struck a wonder goal with six minutes remaining as Benfica edged Juventus 2-1 in Lisbon while Sevilla hit two first-half goals to see off La Liga rivals Valencia 2-0.
After Carlos Tevez tucked away a brilliant equaliser for Serie A leaders Juventus with 17 minutes remaining at the Estadio do Luz, Lima smashed home an unstoppable drive to give the Lisbon outfit a precious advantage. "It's a shame, as at that moment we were pushing for our second goal. We fell asleep at the back," said Juve coach Antonio Conte.
Juventus must now score at home next Thursday to keep their bid on track to reach the final at their home stadium on May 14. Benfica, crowned Portuguese champions for the 33rd time last weekend, grabbed the lead after just three minutes when they forced a corner down the left.
The ball was swung into the heart of the box and Argentine central defender Ezequiel Garay was quickest to react holding off his marker to plant a sharp header past the despairing grasp of Juve's veteran 'keeper Gianluigi Buffon. Jorge Jesus's well-organised Benfica unit threatened to increase their advantage and a series of counter attacks led to a clean chance that Serbian international Lazar Markovic failed to convert just before the break. The second half was equally rich in entertainment with the Portuguese, who were beaten finalists last year against Chelsea, ready to soak up the Italian pressure and then strike on the break. But it was Argentine veteran Tevez who grabbed the all-important away goal. A mazy run inside the box allowed the 30-year-old space to slip the ball under Artur's flailing legs.
Then with time running out, Lima fired home his thunderbolt to put the Portuguese back in charge and set up a tantalising second leg. Sevilla, the 2006 and 2007 champions, took a huge step towards reaching the final as they beat Valencia 2-0 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
The hosts went ahead in controversial circumstances as Stephane Mbia backheeled the ball into the roof of the net despite clearly being in an offside position before Carlos Bacca doubled Sevilla's advantage soon after. Valencia were thankful to goalkeeper Vicente Guaita for not falling further behind as he made fine saves from Federico Fazio and Bacca.
However, Los Che came within inches of a vital away goal three minutes from time when Eduardo Vargas' header came crashing off the crossbar. Sevilla came into the game in great form having won 12 of their last 15 games in all competitions and started brightly. Valencia were rightly aggrieved by the manner in which the opening goal came about on 33 minutes as Mbia was well offside when he latched onto Daniel Carrico's flick-on from Ivan Rakitic's free-kick at the back post and the Cameroonian adjusted his feet well to flick the ball past the helpless Guaita. Three minutes later it was 2-0 as a lovely one-two between Vitolo and Bacca freed the Colombian to fire home his 21st goal of the season.
Juan Antonio Pizzi's Valencia will have a mountain to climb next Thursday at the Mestalla, but can take inspiration from their quarter-final comeback against Basel as they overturned a 3-0 deficit with a stunning 5-0 win at home in the second leg.