By Fergus O'Shea in Porto
It would be unwise of Manchester United FC followers to underestimate FC Porto. The Portuguese title-holders are unbeaten in the SuperLiga this season and progressed to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League with apparent ease.
This is the stance being taken by the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who rates the UEFA Cup holders very highly. Porto have flair, tactical expertise and no limit of perseverance, but the loss of committed and hard-tackling midfield player Costinha due to suspension is a blow.
United themselves have problems in central defence, with Rio Ferdinand suspended and Mikaël Silvestre injured at the weekend, but on arriving in Portugal Sir Alex tried to play down the situation. "We do not like losing our best players," he said. "It is unfortunate for us, but it's part of the game. That's why you have a strong squad which can hopefully cope with that."
Despite Ferguson's assurances that the "off-field nonsense" - his dispute over the ownership of a racehorse - would not disrupt the performances of his thoroughbreds, United have lost ground to Arsenal FC in the English Premiership. Whether such form will follow through to the Champions League is another matter.
The belief among Porto fans is that the evening could prove ominous, despite many impressive performances this season. Real Madrid CF remain the only team to have won at Porto during the current campaign, and it is this excellent statistic Sir Alex is hoping to quash.
Going for goal
I think the main attitude from us will be to try and score," he said. "We've had one or two zero-zero scores in the past and it's not a comfortable situation. You never feel that you've really achieved a result which makes you happy. The job will be to try and score tomorrow."
Putting on pressure
Porto coach José Mourinho is obviously relishing the prospect of playing United, and there was a quiet confidence to his demeanour. "We have to play to our qualities, and our qualities are first of all to try and dominate the game, to try to have the ball and to control the game," he said. "We have to try and put pressure on to their defence."
These teams last met during the 1996/97 season when United eliminated Porto from this competition after beating them 4-0 at Old Trafford. The return leg finished goalless.
Ferguson paid tribute to the improved work ethic he recognises in the current Porto side compared to past teams, and Mourinho agreed. "We don't have selfish players, they don't concentrate on image," he said. "The goal as a team is to try and get the result, and we know our opponents. But we feel we have a chance, that we have a real chance."
Ready for United
He added: "We know everything about them. Whether that is enough to win, I don't know. We worked a lot to understand the way they play, and the solutions they have.
We have had people working for two months on observation and analysis. I think we are ready, and more important than ready is to be happy to play them."
When Sir Alex was asked how much he knew about Porto, he replied with a wry smile: "I know a lot about Porto." Their home record is impressive, and while they may be playing in an impressive new stadium, Mourinho reiterated: "It is new, but it is our home."
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