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Porto's hopes burning brightly

Published: Wednesday 20 March 2002, 15.00CET
AC Sparta Praha may be playing for pride tonight but FC Porto's quarter-final dream is still alive.
Published: Wednesday 20 March 2002, 15.00CET

Porto's hopes burning brightly

AC Sparta Praha may be playing for pride tonight but FC Porto's quarter-final dream is still alive.

For AC Sparta Praha the final fixture in UEFA Champions League Group C comes down to nothing more than a matter of pride, but for FC Porto there is still the hope of making progress to the quarter-final stage.

Poor away record
The Portuguese side have to win in the Czech Republic and Panathinaikos FC have to lose at home to Real Madrid CF for their ambition to be realised. However, Porto have not travelled well in the competition: since beating Rosenborg BK in their first match on 18 September they have lost three games and drawn in Athens 0-0, scoring just once in the four matches.

Unwelcome record beckons
Sparta's victory at Porto on Matchday Eight - secured by Libor Sionko's late goal – has been the sole success for Jaroslav Hrebík's side in their last seven games in the competition. They are hoping to arrest a run of three successive home defeats as well as three in a row home and away in the second group stage. If they lose again on Wednesday it will set an unwanted record as they have lost three successive Champions League fixtures on three different occasions but never four.

Title chances receding
Porto will be praying that the gods are smiling on them during this game because in the Portuguese 1. Liga they are fast fading out of contention. Their title chances received another setback last weekend when they played out a goalless draw at the Das Antas stadium with an FC Alverca side reduced to ten men for the last 16 minutes.

Battle for European place
It leaves team in fourth place, eleven points behind the leaders Sporting Clube de Portugal, ten behind local rivals Boavista FC and two behind SL Benfica with seven games to play. Only the top three sides in Portugal are rewarded with European football next season – the top two enter the qualifying round of the Champions League and the third-placed side enter qualifying for the UEFA Cup - so Porto have their work cut out to feature at this level next season.

New signings
For Wednesday's game they are without Carlos Secretário following his red card against Panathinaikos last week. Porto, have, however, signed the Brazilian striker Derlei and left-back Nuno Valente, from UD Leiria, Mourinho's former club. Both players will be ineligible for Wednesday's game having signed after the Champions League deadline. The deal involves three Porto players - Rafael, Ricardo Sousa and Alhandra - moving in the other direction.

Title race
Sparta also failed to win last weekend but did emerge with a creditable 1-1 away draw against fellow title-contenders FK Viktoria Zizkov in the Czech 1. liga despite going behind in the third minute. Martin Horak, the midfield player who has just joined the club from CU Bohemians Praha, equalised after 28 minutes to maintain Sparta's one point advantage over Zizkov at the top.

The Prague club are still without their first-choice full-backs. Czech international Pavel Mares, signed in the winter break to replace Vladmir Labant, injured an ankle in his second appearance while Zdenek Grygera was injured playing for the Czech Republic in Cyprus last month. Top scorer Radim Holub is also out through injury.

Last updated: 16/11/12 7.40CET

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