Europa Conference League

Europa Conference League (127)

John McGinn is quickly turning his focus to the "astronomical achievement" of Champions League qualification after Aston Villa suffered heartbreak in the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League.

Villa were among the favourites to lift Europe's third-tier trophy but a 2-0 defeat at Olympiacos on Thursday consigned Unai Emery's men to a 6-2 aggregate loss over the two-leg tie.

It means Villa end what has largely been viewed as an excellent season without a trophy but they can still finish on a high by securing a top-four finish in the Premier League.

They lead fifth-place Tottenham by seven points with two games left in their domestic season, albeit Spurs do have a game in hand.

McGinn apologised to the travelling support in Piraeus but, speaking to TNT Sports after the game, said there is still an opportunity to finish the season on a high.

"We went into this competition as favourites and we handled that pressure throughout the competition, I think it’s been a huge learning curve for us," he said.

"It's not been a smooth journey, we got to the semi-finals down to the bare bones a bit.

"However, those of us who were out there over the two legs, we lost to who were the better team and I think the scoreline proves it."

"Our instant feeling is absolutely gutted. We all wanted to be back here for the final.

"Olympiacos gave it absolutely everything, played out of their skin in both legs, and overall the scoreline proves they were the better team.

"We'll reflect, there's a lot of things we could have done better, but over the season, of course, we can be proud of the journey.

"Obviously, we need to apologise to the supporters who have travelled here, they've travelled the whole campaign with us.

"We wanted to deliver a trophy to them, we all wanted it as players. We’'e all bitterly disappointed, but we need a big push in the last two games to try and get over the line for the Champions League, which would be an astronomical achievement.

"But here, the overriding feeling is disappointment, frustration and an opportunity missed. Congratulations to Olympiacos and we wish them all the best in the final."

Unai Emery says Thursday's Europa Conference League clash with Olympiacos is Aston Villa's "biggest challenge" of the season.

Villa are 4-2 down after a shock defeat in the first leg of the semi-final tie at Villa Park last week.

While they are pushing for a top-four finish in the Premier League, Emery believes attempting to overturn the deficit in Greece will prove to be Villa's biggest test yet.

"This is the challenge tomorrow, the biggest challenge we’re going to face this year, playing in this semi-final," Emery said.

"I will find the best performances tomorrow and really be competitive.

"Of course, it's going to be very difficult here away because the atmosphere supporting the home team could be more difficult.

"In 90 minutes, we have to be focused with everything tactically, being in control of our emotions, set-pieces as well, everything."

Olympiacos or Villa will face Fiorentina in the final on May 29, after the Serie A club overcame Club Brugge on Wednesday.

Lucas Beltran was Fiorentina's hero as his late penalty in a 1-1 draw with Club Brugge ensured they progressed to the Europa Conference League final.

Beltran held his nerve from the spot to score an 85th-minute equaliser, earning a draw on the night but a 4-3 aggregate victory.

Fiorentina won the first leg 3-2, but Hans Vanaken's 20th-minute opener levelled the tie, on Wednesday.

Christian Kouame hit the woodwork twice for Fiorentina, but the pressure finally told when Brandon Mechele caught M'Bala Nzola with a high boot.

Beltran made no mistake, with Fiorentina holding firm to seal their place in the final in Athens on May 29.

Fiorentina lost last season's final to West Ham, and the Serie A club will now face either Olympiacos or Aston Villa.

Data Debrief: Back-to-back finals for Viola

Fiorentina have reached a European final for the sixth time in their history, and the second time in a row, though they have only won one of their previous five attempts.

They have only achieved that feat once before, which was back in 1961 and 1962.

Aston Villa captain, John McGinn said that “everything that could have gone wrong, did” after their Europa Conference League semi-final first-leg defeat to Olympiacos on Thursday.

Ayoub El Kaabi scored a hat-trick for Olympiacos, netting twice in the first half, though Villa fought back through Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby.

El Kaabi converted a spot-kick before a deflected Santiago Hezze strike put the visitors back in control.

Douglas Luiz also missed a late penalty, leaving Villa with a two-goal deficit to overturn in the second leg next Thursday.

Asked what he felt went wrong for the Villans, McGinn, speaking to TNT Sports, said: "Not the game we wanted. We wanted a lot more control. We started the game well.

"They're a good side. We wanted a victory going to Greece. We showed we're capable of coming back.

"Mistakes all round tonight. We'll take responsibility, but it's up to us to go to Athens and turn it around because we're capable.

"They played very well tactically. They played the way we expected, so there were no surprises.

"Everything that could have gone wrong tonight did."

He added: "The manager was still positive in there. There's still a long way to go.

"We need to play a lot better than we did tonight, but we're more than capable of doing it.

"Hopefully we'll have a few players back. The onus is on us to attack Olympiacos and score some goals.

"We have a mountain to climb, but we know we're capable."

Aston Villa were stunned by Olympiacos as they suffered a 4-2 home defeat in the Europa Conference League.

On what the Villa faithful hoped would be a famous night at Villa Park, they instead saw their team dispatched by their Greek opponents in the first leg of their semi-final encounter.

Ayoub El Kaabi scored a hat-trick for the visitors, who were 2-0 up inside 30 minutes on Thursday.

Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby struck either side of the interval to restore parity, but El Kaabi sealed his hat-trick from the penalty spot before Santiago Hezze added further gloss with a sensational finish. To add to Villa's misery, Douglas Luiz then missed a penalty late on.

In the other semi-final tie, Fiorentina took a 3-2 aggregate lead against Club Brugge.

M'Bala Nzola was Fiorentina's hero in stoppage time, scoring in the 91st minute to nudge the Serie A team ahead.

Hans Vanaken had scored from a penalty following a VAR check for handball in the 17th minute, cancelling out Riccardo Sottil's early opener, though Fiorentina restored their lead through Andrea Belotti before half-time in a frantic first half.

Thiago equalised for Brugge, but it was ultimately not enough.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez will miss the Europa Conference League semi-final first leg against Olympiacos.

The Argentina international saved two penalties in the 4-3 quarter-final shootout victory over Lille, but earned a yellow card for his trademark gamesmanship and baiting the home crowd.

That was his second of the game, but he was not sent off as cards are not carried over into the shootout.

However, after also picking up a booking in the first leg against Lille, he will now miss the semi-final first leg with the Greek side on May 2 for three yellows on the totting-up process.

The World Cup winner, who produced heroics against France in the 2022 final in Qatar, will be a big miss, with Unai Emery calling him the best goalkeeper in the world.

“To say something about this is when he’s being successful individually and collectively with his club here at Aston Villa and his national team,” boss Unai Emery said.

“He’s being successful with Argentina, he’s being successful and progressively getting better here with Aston Villa.

“And individually he’s being successful because he’s saving a lot of matches as a goalkeeper.

“Of course, he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world – the first, the second, the third.

“For me, the best.”

Villa will have a quick turnaround after playing 120 minutes in northern France on Thursday, with Bournemouth’s visit to Villa Park on Sunday.

Emery will assess his side after Saturday’s training session to see how they recover, with Nicolo Zaniolo going off injured in the first half against Lille.

Alex Moreno, Emiliano Buendia, Jacob Ramsey, Tyrone Mings and Boubacar Kamara are definitely out.

“Alex Moreno, Mings, Buendia, Ramsey are still unavailable,” Emery added. “I think no more. After the match we played yesterday, we will have to wait and then decide.”

King of the dark arts Emiliano Martinez said it was his destiny to be the penalty shootout hero as Aston Villa booked their spot in the semi-final of the Europa Conference League

The Argentina goalkeeper, who helped his country win the World Cup 18 months ago in similar circumstances, produced more heroics against Lille, saving spot-kicks from Nabil Bentaleb and Benjamin Andre to earn a 4-3 shootout win after the quarter-final had ended 3-3 on aggregate.

There was plenty of his trademark gamesmanship on show as he shushed the baiting French crowd, who had not forgotten what happened in Qatar, and then caused confusion by receiving a yellow card from the referee in the middle of the shootout, having already been booked in normal time.

But bookings are not carried forward into the shootout meaning he could stay on and send Villa into a first European semi-final since 1982.

“It has been a hell of a ride all of my career. I am a believer and a hard worker and it was my destiny today,” he said on TNT Sports.

“I always say in all my career, I owe my team-mates in those moments, even when we were watching Real Madrid last night the manager was saying we might go to penalties and in those moments I own my box.”

On the shootout drama, where he was shown a yellow card by referee Ivan Kruzliak, he said: “It’s all about reputation for time-wasting because the other goalie was doing exactly the same thing.

“I got a yellow after 30 minutes and we were losing the game so I don’t know what the ref wants from me.

“Then there was no ball in the penalty spot and I was asking for a ball from the ball boy and I get booked; I just don’t understand the rules.”

Martinez’s heroics rescued Villa as they were not deserving of victory, having been outplayed for the majority of the second leg in France, with goals from Yusuf Yazici and Andre overturning a 2-1 first-leg advantage.

Matty Cash’s 87th-minute strike sent it to extra-time, with Martinez coming up trumps in the shootout to give boss Unai Emery an eighth successive European quarter-final victory.

 

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The Spaniard, so prolific in the Europa League with Sevilla and Villarreal, will be eyeing another European trophy.

And with Villa leading the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League which would achieve Champions League qualification for the first time in the club’s history, the Argentina international says something special is on the horizon.

“This group of players and the managers are special, the owners get involved as well, they are always behind us,” he said.

“It feels like we are going to do something special, I don’t know if it’s Champions League or I don’t know if its Conference League but we try to do everything we can to push the football club.”

Emiliano Martinez was the unsurprising star of a dramatic penalty shootout as Aston Villa edged past Lille and into the semi-final of the Europa Conference League.

The Argentina goalkeeper, who helped his country win the World Cup 18 months ago, produced some similar heroics in France, saving spot-kicks from Nabil Bentaleb and Benjamin Andre to earn a 4-3 shootout win after the quarter-final had ended 3-3 on aggregate after two legs.

There was plenty of his trademark dark arts on show as he shushed the baiting French crowd, who had not forgotten what happened in Qatar, and then caused confusion by receiving a yellow card from the referee in the middle of the shootout, having already been booked in normal time.

But bookings are not carried forward into the shootout meaning he could stay on and send Villa into a first European semi-final since 1982.

They were not deserving of victory, though, as they were outplayed for the majority of the second leg in France, with goals from Yusuf Yazici and Andre overturning a 2-1 first leg advantage.

Matty Cash’s 87th-minute strike sent it to extra-time, with Martinez coming up trumps in the shootout to give boss Unai Emery an eighth successive European quarter-final victory.

The Spaniard, so prolific in the Europa League with Sevilla and Villarreal will be eyeing another European trophy.

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery knows his side have plenty of work to do in next week’s Europa Conference League quarter-final second leg in Lille.

Villa will travel to France with a 2-1 advantage thanks to first-leg goals from Ollie Watkins and John McGinn gave the on-looking Prince of Wales something to cheer about.

But Lille showed they are no pushovers and Bafode Diakite’s late header kept the tie alive after they had been repelled by an impressive performance from Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Villa must now go to northern France next week and finish the job if they are to make their first European semi-final since they won the European Cup in 1982.

That will not be an easy task as the French football federation have postponed Lille’s Ligue 1 game this weekend to give them extra time to prepare and they have only been beaten once at home all season.

Emery, who celebrated his 1,000th game as a manager, said: “Difficult match, we are ready to play another 90 minutes, we played the first 90 minutes, we didn’t control the game like we wanted and defensively we were doing more work than we prepared for because we wanted to control the game with our positioning.

“With the respect we have got for them, they showed it.

“The result is tight, but more or less it was a fine for both teams. Now another 90 minutes, enjoy playing in Europe, enjoy playing a quarter-final.

“Be ready to play 90 minutes, even extra time, even a penalty shootout because now it is in this moment everything is difficult.”

Lille boss Paulo Fonseca, who almost took over at Newcastle and Tottenham in the last few years, felt Watkins’ goal should have been disallowed for a foul by Morgan Rogers on Ismally.

“I don’t understand what is going on, it was a foul on the first goal,” he said.

“I understand it is difficult for the referee with VAR it is just incredible they miss these things. It’s not good what is going on in football, the referees must look at what is going on in the moment.

“A lot of matches, it is not football, it is blocking like in basketball. The first goal was a clear foul, a clear block. Being physical is one thing, fouling is another.”

However, after the way they created chances at Villa Park, Fonseca knows the tie is very much alive.

“We created the opportunity to get a better result,” he added. “I’m satisfied with the courage of my players but at the end of the day, we’ve lost.

“I know that it’s difficult match, they’ve got great players, a great coach and a lot of experience so they have certain advantages but I must continue to believe it’s possible.”

Aston Villa earned royal approval as the Prince of Wales watched his beloved club beat Lille 2-1 in the first leg of their Europa Conference League quarter-final at Villa Park.

Goals in either half from Ollie Watkins and John McGinn saw Villa lead their first European last-eight tie since 1998 and give boss Unai Emery victory in his 1,000th match as a manager.

Prince William and his son Prince George celebrated the goals wildly but will have been concerned about what happened at the other end.

Bafode Diakite’s late header gave Lille a lifeline just as it looked like they would head home frustrated by Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who had made a string of big saves.

Villa must now go to northern France next week and finish the job if they are to make their first European semi-final since they won the European Cup in 1982.

That will not be an easy task as the French football federation have postponed Lille’s Ligue 1 game this weekend to give them extra time to prepare and they have only been beaten once at home all season.

After an early scare, which required a vital intervention from Pau Torres to deny Hakon Arnar Haraldsson a tap-in following Diego Carlos’ error, Villa took command.

Lille boss Paulo Fonseca, perenially linked with a move to England, said in his pre-match press conference that his side would pay special attention to Watkins, but allowed him three quickfire chances.

The first came after Watkins capitalised on Leny Yoro’s dive and was denied by Benjamin Andre’s last-ditch tackle, with the England striker shooting straight at Lucas Chevalier from the resulting corner.

It was from another corner that Watkins did get on the scoresheet in the 13th minute, as he was left unmarked from McGinn’s corner to power home a header from close range, though Lille thought there was a foul by Morgan Rogers.

Only another last-ditch tackle from Diakhite denied Watkins a second after Douglas Luiz had played him in, but from the resulting corner Villa were almost stung on the counter-attack.

Former Tottenham and Newcastle midfielder Nabil Bentaleb’s ball fell to Edon Zhegrova at the far post and he looked primed to score until Martinez came out to smother the shot.

That gave Lille confidence and they looked a threat, with Martinez producing an almost identical stop to deny Diakhite after Haraldsson had set him clear.

Martinez was quickly becoming Villa’s key player and produced another block to keep his side in front after a misplaced pass from Rogers allowed Lille to break, although star man Jonathan David was unable to get his shot past the World Cup winner.

The half-time break proved welcome for Villa, who came out with a roar after the break and doubled their lead in the 56th minute.

It was another corner that did the job as Leon Bailey’s scuffed cross fell perfectly to McGinn, who stroked home delightfully from the edge of the penalty area.

Villa seemed in total control but Lille gave them a scare in the 63rd minute when Gudmondsson converted at the far post, only for VAR to decide he was narrowly offside.

Martinez again showed his quality with saves from Gudmondsson and Haraldsson but he was eventually breached in the 84th minute as an unmarked Diakite glanced home from a corner.

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