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History-seeking Chelsea target Europa semis

jjjPARIS, France 11th April – Chelsea can take a step closer to becoming only the fourth side to win all three of UEFA’s major club competitions by cementing a place in the Europa League semi-finals when they travel to Rubin Kazan on Thursday.

Only Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich can count Champions League, Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup triumphs among their list of honours, but Chelsea are well positioned to add their name to that elite group as they head to Russia with a 3-1 advantage from the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

“We have established a good lead. We know that the second leg will be difficult away from home, so it was important to get the victory and score three goals,” said Brazilian midfielder Ramires.

“Obviously we want to qualify for the Champions League but we don’t want to forgo the trophies that we are chasing either,” added the 26-year-old, sounding a slightly different tone to teammate John Mikel Obi after the Nigerian revealed his indifference towards Europe’s second-tier competition.

“No disrespect to the Europa League … but when you get that buzz, and you hear the Champions League song, it’s different.

“It has been kind of frustrating to watch (Champions League matches) — and we have to then play on Thursday night,” Mikel admitted.

History overwhelmingly favours Rafa Benitez’s side with the Blues having won all five previous encounters against Russian opposition and Rubin, despite an 18-game European unbeaten run in Kazan, far less dominant in Moscow, the venue for Thursday’s return leg, having lost three of their past four matches at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Chelsea’s London rivals Tottenham face a significantly sterner challenge as they make the trip to Basel to face the Swiss league leaders with their last-eight tie evenly poised at 2-2 after Spurs recovered from a two-goal deficit at White Hart Lane last week.

Adding to Andre Villas-Boas’ problems is the absence of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and William Gallas after the trio all sustained injuries in the first leg.

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However, January arrival Lewis Holtby remained confident Tottenham could still secure their place in the last four.

“We are good away from home, we have got some good results this season so we’re still positive and our confidence is high,” said the German international.

Benfica will go to Newcastle as the favourites to advance following a 3-1 victory in the Portuguese capital last time out.

Only twice has a side recovered from a two-goal, first-leg deficit in the competition’s knockout phase since it was rebranded four years ago, and while Newcastle are unbeaten in 13 European home fixtures they have only won by more than one goal on two occasions in that time.

A meagre return of 10 goals in 11 games since the start of this season’s group stage doesn’t bode well for the Magpies, but midfielder Yohan Cabaye is optimistic about his side’s hopes.

“In front of our supporters, I’m sure we’ll have chances. Now it’s up to us to control the match well and play the 90 minutes right to the end to try and qualify,” said the French international.

With the club having announced a sell-out for Thursday’s match, Cabaye added: “It’ll be a whole different atmosphere and I know we can count on our fans.”

Lazio must overturn a 2-0 deficit in Rome if they are to make it through to the semis after Pierre Webo and Dirk Kuyt struck two late goals for Fenerbahce a week ago.

However, the Italians will be forced to play in front of an empty Olympic Stadium after the club was sanctioned with a two-match stadium ban following crowd trouble in their last-32 tie against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

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Fixtures (kick-off times 1905 GMT unless stated otherwise):

Rubin Kazan (RUS) v Chelsea (ENG) (1600)

Basel (SUI) v Tottenham (ENG)

Lazio (ITA) v Fenerbahce (TUR)

Newcastle (ENG) v Benfica (POR)

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