Barcelona: Atletico Madrid beat Valencia 4-2 while Sporting Lisbon remained undefeated in European home games this season after a 2-1 comeback win over Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday.
Atletico dominated fellow Spanish rival Valencia at Vicente Calderon Stadium in one of the 2010 champions' finest performances under coach Diego Simeone that featured Radamel Falcao netting his 31st and 32nd goals of the season. "Of course, I am happy for the goals, but the important thing is that we won in such a commanding fashion," Falcao said.
In Lisbon, Emiliano Insua and Diego Capel scored in the 76th and 80th minutes to keep Sporting undefeated in 12 consecutive European home games. Bilbao take home Jon Aurtenetxe's valuable away goal and will try to rebound in next week's second leg to set up an all-Spanish final on May 9 in Bucharest, Romania.
Atletico bossed the match from the start and deservedly went ahead 18 minutes in through Falcao's opener. Forward Arda Turan fought to win possession on the right flank and picked out Falcao in the area to turn his cross into the net with a sharp header.
Valencia snatched an equaliser three minutes into first-half injury time when Jonas fired home a corner flicked on by Adil Rami. Miranda put Atletico back in front four minutes after the restart with a header, and striker Adrian Lopez made it 3-1 in the 54th with a superb individual effort. Falcao then scored his second goal with an unstoppable left-footed blast that clipped the underside of the bar before finding the back of the net in the 78th.
"The triumph isn't definitive, but we have to be content with the result," said Simeone. Falcao's double levelled him with Schalke's Klass-Jan Huntelaar as the tournament's top scorers this season with 10 each. The Colombia striker, who won the Europa League last season with Porto, is the competition's all-time leading scorer with 23 goals in 23 appearances.
Valencia defender Ricardo Costa scored with another header off a corner four minutes into stoppage time. "The goal in the final minute gives us hope we can turn this around," said Valencia's Roberto Soldado. "Mestalla Stadium will be fundamental to try and rebound to make the final."
Sporting outdid Bilbao at their own game at Jose Alvalade Stadium by unleashing a frenetic, pressing attack that kept Bilbao on the back foot. Bilbao earned wide praise for their victories at Manchester United and Schalke in the previous two rounds but Fernando Llorente, who has six goals in 11 Europa League appearances, was rarely in action.
After holding off the hosts through the first half, Aurtenetxe tapped in a Markel Susaeta cross at the back post in the 54th against the run of play. Fernando Amorebieta came close to extending Bilbao's lead soon after when he hit the post from inside the area. But by the end, Bilbao's defence looked ragged and the relentless onslaught from the home team soon paid off when Insua headed to make it 1-1 before Capel grabbed the winner with a long-range strike.
"It would have been unfair to lose," Capel said. "We played a spectacular game in every facet. We could have won by a wider margin with all the chances we had." Bilbao were unbeaten in their previous five games in the tournament.