Sporting Lisbon v Athletic Bilbao, Thurs 20:05
Having both ejected Manchester City and Manchester United from this season’s Europa League, respectively, it’s fair to say that Sporting Lisbon and Athletic Bilbao deserve their places in the semi-finals of the European tournament but neither will be resting on that privilege alone on Thursday as PaddyPower give even odds and free bets on either side winning.
The last four semi-finals of the Europa League have only included clubs from the Iberian Peninsula and Sporting Lisbon are the last team flying the Portuguese flag in this year’s episode of the competition.
They already know that it’ll be a Spanish side that they face in the final should they make it there but will do everything in their power to make sure it’s them that makes it nearer to the finish line instead of an all-Spanish finale that features Athletic Bilbao.
The Primera Liga outfit are currently surrounded by domestic controversy after vice-president Paulo Pereira Cristovao was indicted on charges of false-accusations following accusations of bribing an official.
Sporting currently sit in fourth spot in the Portuguese top flight following a disappointing campaign and Europa League triumph would certainly prove a welcome boost to their season.
However, standing as a very considerable obstruction is Athletic Bilbao who have themselves had a below-par performance this season.
The Basque side currently sit in eighth position in La Liga and with a difficult run-in ahead, Europa League success would seem their only route into next season’s Champions League.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have scored an average of 1.19 goals when playing away from home this season but their defence has been a lot less assured, keeping a clean sheet in just 6% of their fixtures in unfamiliar territory in that time.
Despite their domestic troubles, the pair’s difficult run to this stage of the tournament makes for a very promising encounter in Thursdays fight between the two lions, Spain’s Leones (Athletic) and Portugal’s Leões (Sporting).