Portuguese trio on course for Europa League semis

BY foxsports • April 13, 2011

The eight teams in Europa League action on Thursday all know it will take something extraordinary to prevent an all-Iberian semifinal lineup.

FC Porto takes a 5-1 lead to Russia for the second leg of its quarterfinal against Spartak Moscow, while Benfica goes to PSV Eindhoven 4-1 ahead. Spain's Villarreal leads FC Twente 5-1, and Braga - the third Portuguese side in action - has an away goal from last week's 1-1 draw at Dynamo Kiev.

"We need to show we can play better than we did on Thursday and put pressure on them," PSV goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson said. "It's not an easy position for the second leg, but we have a chance and we're going to take it.

"We want to fight for it."

But fighting may not be enough.

"We need to play an almost perfect game to win, but so do Benfica," PSV coach Fred Rutten said. "We respect them a lot. Benfica's title defense is over now that FC Porto have been crowned champions in Portugal, so they will be fully focused on the Europa League."

PSV will be without Ola Toivonen after the Sweden striker hurt himself scoring the equalizer in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Heerenveen.

Portuguese sides have made little impression on the elite Champions League since Porto's 2004 title under coach Jose Mourinho, but they could fill three of the semifinal berths in the second-tier competition.

Spartak Moscow and Twente, the latter of which dropped into the Europa League with Braga after finishing third in its Champions League group, has an even tougher task.

Only three clubs have ever advanced in European club competitions after losing the first leg of a match by four goals. Real Madrid and Partizan Belgrade have done it in the UEFA Cup - which was revamped as the Europa League for last season - while unheralded Portuguese side Leixoes did it back in 1961 in the now defunct Cup Winners' Cup.

The most recent of those came 25 seasons ago, when Madrid bounced back from a 5-1 loss at Borussia Moenchengladbach with a 4-0 home win that took the Spanish side into the fourth round on away goals.

Villarreal is a strong favorite to advance but Twente may have a glimmer of hope since Brazilian striker Nilmar is suspended for the Spanish side and Argentina defender, Gonzalo Rodriguez, is out for the season with an injury sustained in the first leg.

With Spartak Moscow similarly stranded with a four-goal deficit to make up, Dynamo Kiev looks the most likely candidate to prevent an Iberian sweep.

"We only need to score once in Braga," Dynamo midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic said.


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