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Europa League semi-final wrap: Advantage Porto, Benfica

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 29 Apr 2011

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Portuguese giants Porto and Benfica will head into the return leg of their respective Europa League semi-finals in commanding positions.

Porto striker Falcao bagged four goals in his side’s emphatic come-from-behind 5-1 win over Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final first-leg on Thursday, while Benfica will take a slight advantage into the second leg against Braga after they edged their compatriots 2-1 at the Estadio da Luz.

Falcao’s four-goal haul helped Liga Sagres champions Porto build an unassailable lead as it looks to lift its first continental trophy since Jose Mourinho steered the side to Champions League glory in 2003/04.

But it was the Spaniards who drew first blood at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto, giving them what looked to be an important away goal heading into the return leg.

Yellow Submarines midfielder Cani’s headed effort went beyond the reach of Porto goalkeeper Helton on the stroke of half-time, sparking celebrations from the visiting fans.

But Andre Villas-Boas’ men responded shortly after the break.

Falcao raced onto a Fredy Guarin through-ball and was fouled in the box by Villarreal glovesman Diego Lopez.

He dusted himself off to dispatch the ensuing penalty, making the score 1-1.

The Portuguese side grabbed the lead in the 61st minute as Guarin headed in a rebound after initially striking the post.

Falcao then doubled the advantage when he applied the finish to Hulk’s cut-back, before the Colombian added his third for the night with a bullet header in the 75th minute.

Porto then stretched their advantage in the final minute of regular time, with Falcao nodding in his fourth to make the score 5-1. Falcao’s performance will only add more value to his price tag, with the highly rated frontman now boasting 15 goals in 12 Europa League appearances this term.

A little further south in Lisbon, an all-Portuguese affair saw Benfica collect a 2-1 lead over surprise package Braga, who had eliminated former European champions Liverpool in the last stage.

Jardel’s opened the scoring in the 50th minute for the home side after stabbing in a Oscar Cardozo’s rebounded header from close range, but his goal was cancelled out shortly after by Braga’s Vandinho.

The Brazilian headed in from the edge of the penalty area with after connecting with former Newcastle United midfielder Hugo Viana’s cross.

Paraguayan striker Cardozo, however, restored the lead when he spun a delicious free-kick into the top right-hand corner of Artur’s goal.

The corresponding Europa League legs will be played next Thursday.

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