As the final whistle blew in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Lisbon erupted into joyous celebration. Sporting Clube de Portugal (Sporting CP) had just beaten FC Metalist Kharkiv 3-2 on aggregate sending followers of the Sportinguistas into a frenzy. The prize? A place in the semi-finals of the Europa League. The ultimate prize? European glory and a chance for Sporting CP to add more silverware to their 1964 Cup Winners Cup.
Sporting CP’s journey to the semi-finals has had everything: pulsating matches, beautiful goals and free-flowing, attacking football. They stamped their authority on group D, topping the group and producing back-to-back wins over Zurich, as well as a 2-1 victory over Lazio. This set up a tricky last-32 encounter with one of the most successful Polish clubs in history, Legia Varsovia
A 2-2 draw in Warsaw set the scene for a nervous second leg back in Lisbon. Sporting CP held firm, shutting out Legia Varsovia and winning the match 1-0. Premier League heavyweights Manchester City lay in wait. Lisbon held its breath………
Backed by the limitless funds of Sheikh Mansour and boasting a squad bursting with top quality players, Manchester City were favourites to go through. But the Sportinguistas had other ideas.
Playing at home in the first leg, Sporting CP turned their half of the pitch into a fortress, stifling Manchester City’s fluid passing game with excellent defensive organisation. They hit on the counter attack and took the lead in the 51st minute with a close-range back heel. Sporting CP held their defensive shape to clinch the match 1-0. The tie was on a knife-edge.
The return leg at the Etihad Stadium was a barnstorming affair. Sporting CP came out all guns blazing and, thanks to a stunning 20-yard free-kick and a tap in, found themselves 2-0 up in the first half. However, Manchester City clawed their way back into the match to lead 3-2. But it wasn’t enough. Sporting held on for a famous win, sending them into the quarter-finals.
Metalist Kharkiv were now all that stood between Sporting CP and the Europa league semi-final. Sporting CP were in full control of the first match, leading 2-0 until a last gasp penalty gave Metalist hope for the second leg. But Sporting held firm, winning the tie 3-2 to set up a mouth-watering semi-final against Athletic Bilbao.
The Europa League trophy is now tantalisingly in reach. And Sporting are on the verge of European glory. We wish them all the best and we hope they get to the final.
Come on Sportinguistas