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Pirlo stunner sends Juventus into Europa League last eight

updated 6:23 PM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
Andrea Pirlo's free-kick sent Italian champions Juventus into the quarterfinals of the Europa League.
Andrea Pirlo's free-kick sent Italian champions Juventus into the quarterfinals of the Europa League.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Italian champions Juventus beat Fiorentina to make Europa League quarterfinals
  • Stunning free kick from veteran Andrea Pirlo seals victory over fellow Italian side
  • Portuguese giants Benfica see off late rally from Spurs to make last eight
  • Spanish side Valencia ease past Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets Razgrad

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(CNN) -- Like a fine Italian wine, it seems Andrea Pirlo just keeps getting better with age.

At 34, Pirlo is most certainly in the twilight of his long and illustrious career, which has seen him snare four Italian league titles, two European Champions League crowns and one World Cup.

But in a tense round of 16 clash with fellow Italians Fiorentina he proved he can still be the difference at the top level after his glorious free kick sent Juventus into the Europa League quarterfinals.

Locked at 1-1 after the first leg in Florence, Pirlo sent a perfectly flighted set piece into the net with less than 20 minutes remaining to seal a 2-1 aggregate victory.

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Though a full 27 points separates the sides in Serie A, with Juve poised to win their third straight Italian title, Fiorentina are the only team to have beaten them in the league this campaign.

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But after the home side squandered several chances, Juve came back into the game, Pirlo's 71st minute goal coming shortly after Gonzalo Rodriguez had been sent off for La Viola.

Now Juventus have a real chance to banish the disappointment of going out of the Champions League in the group stages by winning Europe's second-tier tournament.

Portuguese giants Benfica are also through to the last eight after they held firm in the face of a late fightback from English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

Trailing 3-1 from the first leg in London last week, Spurs then conceded the opener as Ezequiel Garay nodded home from close range.

But Spurs burst into life in the second half and after Nacer Chadli scored twice in the space of two minutes, they needed just one more goal to level the tie and force extra time.

But as they poured forward in search of their third goal of the night they were caught on the break, Lima scoring from the penalty spot after he was brought down in the area by Sandro.

Spurs manager Tim Sherwood told ITV: "It's such a shame we haven't gone through tonight. They were sweating near the end and the momentum was with us.

"We thought if we stayed in the game we had the quality to hurt them. We wore them down, we countered time and time again with quality players."

Elsewhere, Spanish outfit Valencia cruised into the quarterfinals after a 1-0 victory over Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets Razgrad confirmed a 4-0 aggregate success.

An early goal from Bafetimbi Gomis helped Lyon, from France, to a 5-3 aggregate win over Viktoria Plzen, though the Czech side fought back to win 2-1 on the night.

Dutch side AZ Alkmaar held on in Russia for a 0-0 draw against Anzhi Makhachkala to secure a 1-0 win on aggregate.

A 2-2 draw with Portuguese champions Porto wasn't enough to see Italian side Napoli into the last eight, as they lost 3-2 on aggregate. Goals from Nabil Ghilas and Ricardo Quaresma did the damage for Porto, who won the competition in 2011.

Swiss side FC Basel progressed to the next round despite having Marek Suchy sent off after just eight minutes and going behind to against SV Salzburg in Austria.

But they fought back in the second half and goals from Marco Streller and Gaston Sauro sent them through 2-1 on aggregate.

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