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Sporting aiming to stop an all-Spanish final

Valencia visit Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday night, as they begin their battle to represent Spain in the final.

But Valencia are in poor form going into the game. They lost 4-0 against Espanyol and have taken only five points from their last six league games.

Nevertheless, Valencia still lead the way in the race for third place in La Liga. They are seven points ahead of eighth-placed Atletico, with a top four finish enough to secure a place in next season's Champions League.

Atletico have not fared much better than Valencia. They have picked up just six points from their last five La Liga games.

Atletico's Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who scored the winning goal for Porto in the final last season, said: "To win this trophy when so many people had no faith in our squad would be a great way of showing that this club can achieve things and that Atletico Madrid is a big club in Spain. It would be very special to win it."

'Strong opponent'

Sporting Lisbon are the only non-Spanish side left in the competition and coach Ricardo Sa Pinto believes his side have what it takes to beat Athletic Bilbao over two legs and prevent an all-Spanish final.

"There is no doubt Bilbao is a strong opponent, not just away but at home as well," he said.

"We have to be wary without forgetting this stage has two legs. Their two last away games had positive results and ended up in victories."

Sa Pinto added that Bilbao manager Marcelo Bielsa's side will be tough opponents to break down.

"I think Spain has the joy of having three of the best coaches in the world, such as Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Bielsa."

Bielsa says Sporting's good defensive record will make life difficult for an attack-minded Bilbao side.

"As soon as you reach the end of a championship, the demand increases," said the Sporting coach. "We can't predict how the match will go.

"Sporting also has a lot of offensive resources, and a very secure defence. They have not conceded a lot of goals but it is always complicated to predict a game."

HOW THEY LINE UP:

Atletico Madrid v Valencia (20:05)

Atletico Madrid: Courtois, Juanfran, Miranda, Dominguez, Filipe Luis, Mario Suarez, Gabi, Turan, Diego, Adrian, Falcao. Subs: Sergio Asenjo, Tiago, Salvio, Paulo Assuncao, Koke, Perea, Martin.

Valencia: Diego Alves, Ricardo Costa, Rami, Victor Ruiz, Mathieu, Feghouli, Topal, Tino Costa, Jordi Alba, Soldado, Jonas. Subs: Guaita, Bruno, Maduro, Aduriz, Piatti, Canales, Parejo.

Referee: Craig Thomson (Scotland)

Sporting v Athletic Bilbao (20:05)

Sporting: Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Anderson Polga, Xandao, Insua, Andre Martins, Daniel Carrico, Schaars, Izmailov, van Wolfswinkel, Diego Capel. Subs: Marcelo, Onyewu, Evaldo, Carrillo, Bruno Pereirinha, Neto, Rubio.

Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz, Iraola, Ekiza, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Susaeta, Ander Herrera, Muniain, Llorente. Subs: Raul, Toquero, San Jose, Gabilondo, Koikili, Ibai, Ramalho.

Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)


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