Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for Europa semis
Roma is hoping to reach the semi-finals of a European competition for the second time in four seasons as they host continental heavyweights Ajax, while Arsenal hope to avoid humiliation at the hands of Slavia Prague and Manchester United look set for the last four.
AFP Sport looks ahead to the second legs of the Europa League quarter-finals, on Thursday at 1900 GMT:
Roma look for Euro success to salvage season
Roma (ITA) v Ajax (NED) (first leg 2-1)
Ajax may be four-time European champions and one of the most exciting sides of recent seasons but it is Roma who have the advantage going into the second leg of their tie at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Italy’s last remaining representative in Europe came away from the Johan Cruyff Arena with a thrilling come-from-behind 2-1 win after being under the cosh for much of the match and are close to a likely last-four clash with Man United after reaching the semis of the Champions League in 2018.
Roma have had a poor domestic season and sit seventh in Serie A — seven points off the Champion League places — after coming up short in almost all of their fixtures against their rivals for the European spots, so Thursday’s second leg could define their season.
Ajax are almost guaranteed to retain their Eredivisie title and warmed up for their trip to the Italian capital with a 1-0 win over RKC Waalwijk thanks to a goal from club-record signing Sebastien Haller, who cannot play against Roma after being accidentally left off his club’s European squad list.
Slavia gunning for Europa upset
Slavia Prague (CZE) v Arsenal (ENG) (first leg 1-1)
Slavia Prague lived up to their dangerous reputation last week when Tomas Holes headed home a stoppage time leveller to turn their tie with Arsenal in their favour.
Mikel Arteta’s Gunners missed some good chances in the first leg but now have their work cut out for them if they want to win a trophy and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Slavia are on a run of 23 games without defeat and have already knocked out Leicester City and Rangers in their run to the quarter-finals.
Arsenal meanwhile have been inconsistent all season and sit ninth in the Premier League, 10 points off the Champions League spots.
Depleted United eye last-four berth
Manchester United (ENG) v Granada (ESP) (first leg 2-0)
United are huge favourites to reach the semi-finals following their simple win over Granada in Spain last week, which should put an end to the surprise package’s first ever season of European football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are safely tucked in the Champions League places behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and looked in rude health in sweeping past Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at the weekend.
United will be without key players Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay through suspension but two away goals in the first leg will likely be enough to see England’s second-best team through at Old Trafford.
Moreno pushing Emery towards another Europa triumph?
Villarreal (ESP) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) (first leg 1-0)
Gerard Moreno is having the season of his life as Villarreal gun for their first-ever major trophy, a Europa League triumph that would continue three-time winner Unai Emery’s strong record in the competition.
Spain forward Moreno is set to record a career-best tally after scoring 24 times in all competitions this season, including the only goal in Zagreb last week which gave the La Liga outfit an away goal and a great chance of reaching the last four.
With the top four spaces in La Liga looking sewn up, Villarreal are in a three-way battle to return to the competition next year, and the form of Moreno — who has scored nine times in his last nine matches and set up another four — will make them tricky opponents should they get past Dinamo.
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