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Lyon, Ajax through to Europa League semi-finals

Olympique Lyonnais and AFC Ajax are into the Europa League’s last four.

On Thursday, Lyon and Ajax became the last two clubs to reach the semi-finals of the Europa League, defeating Besiktas JK on penalty kicks and FC Schalke 04 in extra time, respectively. They will join Celta Vigo and Manchester United in Friday’s semi-final draw.

Maxime Gonalons strokes home winning penalty

The tie between Lyon and Besiktas was about as even as any tie can be, and it came as no surprise when the second leg required a penalty shootout.

After 180 minutes of football left Lyon and Besiktas level at 3-3 on aggregate, the clubs mirrored one another from the penalty spot. Cenk Tosun shot low and to the left, then Corentin Tolisso shot low and to the left. Atiba Hutchinson picked out a top corner, then Rachid Ghezzal picked out a top corner. Tolgay Arslan went low and to the right, then Maciej Rybus went low and to the right.

The shootout’s first 10 shots were exceptional, and, when extra penalties were needed, the mirroring continued. Necip Uysal sent the ‘keeper the wrong way, then Mouctar Diakhaby sent the ‘keeper the wrong way. When someone finally missed and Dusko Tosic’s shot was saved by Anthony Lopes, it was inevitable that Christophe Jallet fired over the crossbar.

At long last, with the 16th kick of the shootout, Gonalons sent Lyon to the semi-finals, as the captain beat Fabri and silenced Vodafone Arena, usually a cauldron of deafening noise.

Ajax in dreamland after overcoming Schalke in extra time

It took an extra gear, but Ajax is in the semi-finals. After the Dutch club allowed Schalke to two second-half goals in three minutes, Joel Veltman received his second yellow card of the night minutes before extra time, leaving Peter Bosz’s side with 10 men when 30 minutes of additional football were on the horizon. When Daniel Caligiuri scored in the 101st minute, it looked like the end.

But, out of nowhere, Nick Viergever bundled the ball into the roof of the net and put Ajax ahead on away goals in the 111th minute. Amin Younes then sealed the tie, striking a low shot beyond Ralf Fahrmann’s fingertips.

The last time Ajax played in a European semi-final, Edwin van der Sar, Frank de Boer, Jari Litmanen, and Marc Overmars were on the pitch.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to win and to have scored, particularly against Ralf Fahrmann who was so good in the first leg,” Younes said. “It will be tough to sleep tonight, that’s for sure. It doesn’t really matter who we get in the semi-finals, but now that we’ve come this far we obviously want to win the competition.”

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