Portuguese sides dominant in Europa League
With FC Porto, Benfica and Braga all through to the quarterfinals of the Europa League, Portugal has a great chance this season of adding to its sole success in the continent's second-tier club competition.
A Porto side led by an up-and-coming coach Jose Mourinho beat Celtic 3-2 to win the competition in 2003, when it was called the UEFA Cup.
Eight years on, the club, which is the runaway leader of the Portuguese league, has an opportunity to repeat those exploits and meets Spartak Moscow in the last eight, with the first leg at the Estadio do Dragao.
Elsewhere Thursday, Braga is away for the first leg of its quarterfinal against Ukrainian side Dynamo Kiev and Benfica, competition runner-up in 1983, hosts PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands in a repeat of the Europan Cup final in 1988.
Dutch champion FC Twente takes on Villarreal in the other last-eight match, with the Spanish team at home first as it looks to stay on course for its maiden trophy.
For the first time since 1993-94, three Portuguese teams are vying for a place in the semifinals.
Porto appears best placed to go all the way after extending its lead in the domestic league to 16 points on Sunday by beating Benfica, its nearest challenger, 2-1 away.
"Porto are not easy opponents. They are the favorites to win the whole tournament," Spartak coach Valeri Karpin said. "It would have been better to play against them in the final."
Porto saw off another team from the Russian capital, 2005 winner CSKA Moscow, 3-1 in the last 16 and is unbeaten in the competition after winning five and drawing one of its six group-stage matches.
The winner of the Porto-Spartak series will play either Villarreal or Twente in the semifinals.
For the first time in the history of the competition, no side from England, Germany, Italy or France features in the last eight and Villarreal is flying the flag for the so-called big five European leagues.
Spanish teams have won four of the last seven UEFA Cups/Europa Leagues, with Sevilla (twice) and Valencia both successful before Atletico Madrid's triumph last season.
Villarreal dropped to fourth in the Primera Liga after a 1-0 home defeat to leader Barcelona on Saturday but is happy to turn its focus to Europe.
"We feel like a strong team in Europe," captain and center back Gonzalo Rodriguez said. "We go in with a lot of belief and with the right mentality. (But) we don't feel like a favorite against Twente and it's clear it's going to be a tough series."
In Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi, Villarreal has the competition's top scorer with eight goals. The United States-born forward has also scored 15 times in the Spanish league this season.
Twente will be boosted not only by returning to the top of the Dutch league by beating PSV 2-0 on Saturday but also by the return of striker Bryan Ruiz from injury.
"Villarreal has so many great players - almost all internationals. But we also have a lot of quality," said Twente's Brazilian defender Douglas. "I expect a very tough match ... but we are not afraid of anyone."