By Peter Sterling
Five teams will join Newcastle United FC and AZ Alkmaar in Friday's draw for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup when their evenly-balanced Round of 16 ties are completed tonight. The eighth quarter-finalist will be known on Sunday when FC Steaua Bucuresti and Villarreal CF conclude their delayed tie.
Sporting Clube de Portugal, who hold a 3-2 first-leg lead over Middlesbrough FC, and AJ Auxerre, who have a 1-0 cushion against French rivals LOSC Lille Métropole, both have the added benefit of home advantage and start as favourites to advance.
Sporting also have the incentive of knowing that the final will be staged at their Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon on 18 May and are desperate to make sure they not only host the match, but play in it too.
They will be without injured midfielders Custódio and Fabio Rochemback, and have put themselves under unnecessary pressure after allowing Middlesbrough to recover from 3-0 down last week to score two late goals. This has given the English side renewed hope even though they will be missing Michael Reiziger, Ray Parlour and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the latest in a long line of injuries.
Auxerre also take a single-goal lead into the return leg of their all-Ligue 1 encounter at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Opponents Lille will need to rediscover that winning touch as they are without a domestic league victory since January. Auxerre, meanwhile, are struggling with injuries to playmaker Yann Lachuer and defenders Johan Radet and Younes Kaboul. Lille midfielder Jean Makoun is sidelined too.
While Sporting and Auxerre have edged ahead in their ties, the other three look perfectly poised. PFC CSKA Moskva and FK Partizan drew 1-1 in their first leg as did Real Zaragoza and FK Austria Wien, while Parma FC and Sevilla FC resume hostilities after a stalemate in Spain last week. That is also how it ended between Steaua and Villarreal in Wednesday's opening leg in Romania, ahead of Sunday's return.
The quarter-final draw will be held at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland at 13.00CET on Friday. It is an open draw, so teams from the same country can face each other. The quarter-finals will be played on 7 and 14 April, and the semis on 28 April and 5 May.
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