Spain relying on Celta Vigo to keep up Europa League success
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 13, 2017 09:21 AM
FILE - A Thursday, March 16, 2017 file photo of Celta Vigo's Iago Aspas celebrating after scoring during the Europa League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Krasnodar and Celta in Krasnodar, Russia. Celta Vigo is looking maintain Spainís impressive run of success in the UEFA Cup or Europa League since 2004. Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have won Europeís second-tier competition a combined eight times in the last 13 years. Celta has reached the quarterfinals for only the second time in its history and has never been further in European competition. (AP Photo/File)
STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
The UEFA Cup and Europa League trophies have virtually taken up permanent residence in Spain for the past 13 years.
It's down to Celta Vigo to continue the tradition.
The side from the northwest corner of Spain is the country's only representative in the Europa League quarterfinals, which start Thursday.
Celta has matched its best ever run in European competition, repeating its exploits from 2001 when a team containing Alexander Mostovoi, Valeri Karpin and Gustavo Lopez lost to Barcelona in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. To go one better, Celta must beat Genk — one of two Belgian clubs to get this far.
Since the 2003-04 season, Spain has won Europe's second-tier competition eight times: Valencia (UEFA Cup in 2004), Sevilla (UEFA Cup in 2006 and '07, Europa League in 2014, '15 and '16) and Atletico Madrid (Europa League in 2010 and '12).
Celta has never won a major trophy in its 94-year history.
Here's a look at the quarterfinals:
Ajax coach Peter Bosz looks to have an enviable problem on his hands ahead of the match between two former winners of the competition: Whether to play in-form Bertrand Traore as his striker or bring back fit-again Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.
Dolberg was one of the stars of the Dutch league early in the season but has been sidelined in recent weeks by an injury he picked up in the last 16 of the Europa League. Traore, who is on loan to the Amsterdam club from Chelsea, has run into form in Dolberg's absence, scoring twice in Ajax's 5-1 win at NEC Nijmegen on Saturday.
Schalke striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar is likely to be watching from the bench on his return to the club where he made his breakthrough. Huntelaar has lost his starting place to Guido Burgstaller, signed during the recent transfer window when the 33-year-old striker was out with a knee injury.
Huntelaar's contract with Schalke is running out and he told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf this week that he will be leaving at the end of the season.
Both teams won the competition when it was called the UEFA Cup: Ajax in 1992 and Schalke in 1997.
Celta is likely to have Swedish striker John Guidetti and Chilean midfielder Marcelo Diaz back for the game.
Both players have had knee injuries but practiced with the rest of the squad this week and are expected to be available.
Celta has lost two of its last three home games, including 2-0 to Eibar in the Spanish league on Sunday.
Security has been raised ahead of the game because French authorities fear the match could be used for political expression by Turkish fans, only a few days before a controversial referendum in their country.
About 15,000 Turkish fans are expected to travel to Lyon and local authorities have also banned supporters from entering the stadium with jerseys, scarves, flags and banners other than those of the teams and the countries they represent.
"A stadium is not a place for political expression," Lyon prefect's office said in a statement.
Lagging well behind leader Monaco in the French league, Lyon has been impressive in the Europa League, scoring 16 goals in four knockout games.
The seven-time French champions' last hope of winning a trophy this season could be boosted by the likely absence of Besiktas winger Ricardo Quaresma, who picked up a leg injury over the weekend and is doubtful for the game.
The Europa League has taken on increased importance to United because the English team is struggling to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish in the Premier League.
So expect United manager Jose Mourinho to field a full-strength lineup including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, even though a big league game against Chelsea is looming large on Sunday.
Wayne Rooney didn't travel with the squad, with Mourinho saying Wednesday that the striker "has bad feelings with his ankle" and wasn't happy with his condition. Rooney has featured once in seven games since early March, and that was as a late substitute.
United — a three-time European champion — has never won the UEFA Cup-Europa League, unlike Anderlecht, the 1983 champion. The Belgian team was also runner-up in 1984 but hasn't been beyond the quarterfinals since then.
AP Sports Writers Tales Azzoni in Madrid and Samuel Petrequin in Paris, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this story.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80