Villarreal, Porto lead charge into last four

Porto led an Iberian charge to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals on Thursday, as they brushed aside Spartak Moscow. The win edges Porto, who captured the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 UEFA Champions League title, closer to claiming Europe's second tier club competition again with a 5-2 drubbing of Spartak Moscow for a 10-3 aggregate win.

Porto, in the care of Andre Villas-Boas, strolled into the last four with first-half goals from Brazilian forward Hulk and Cristian Rodriguez. Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarin added to the Portuguese side's tally shortly after the break before Spartak's Artem Dzyuba reduced the deficit on 52 minutes.

First-leg hat-trick hero Falcao produced Porto's fourth off a close range header to make it the Colombian's 11th in the competition two minutes later. Spartak's Ari scored with 20 minutes remaining, but Porto were not in the mood to capitulate with substitute Ruben Micael scoring Porto's fifth one minute from time.

Porto are the last Portuguese team to claim Europe's second club competition, lifting the 2003 UEFA Cup after beating Celtic in the final. And, if they are to have a shot at claiming their second in Dublin on 18 May, they must first overcome Villarreal, the Spanish club who eased past Dutch league champions FC Twente.

Villarreal eases through
Villarreal put one foot in the semi-finals last week with a 5-1 first-leg win at home, and cruised into the last four with a 3-1 second-leg success in Enschede, 8-2 on aggregate.

Twente gave themselves a glimmer of hope with Emir Bajrami's 32nd minute tap-in, but their Spanish visitors levelled on the hour when Giuseppe Rossi scored from the spot after Twente's Dwight Tiadealli was sent off for fouling Wakaso Mubarak. Marco Ruben added a second penalty on 84 minutes with Cani underlining the visitor's supremacy off a superb left-footed volley on the whistle.

The second semi-final, an all-Portuguese affair, will pit Sporting Braga against Benfica. Braga, who knocked out Liverpool in the previous round, went through on the away goals rule after a goalless stalemate at home in the second leg to follow last week's 1-1 draw in Ukraine.

The northern Portuguese outfit had made life difficult for themselves with the 29th minute sending off of Brazil forward Paolo Case for a late challenge on Dynamo Kyiv striker Andriy Yarmolenko. Kyiv were also down a man three minutes from time when Popov picked up a second yellow card.

While Braga were made to sweat to the end, their last four rivals Benfica secured their passage to the semi-finals after a 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven for a 6-3 aggregate win. The Lisbon side were living dangerously when PSV raced to a 2-0 lead on the night to make it 3-4 on aggregate in the first half hour, but the visitors ensured their European adventure continued with goals from Luisao and Oscar Cardazo from the spot.