The sight of Tarik Sektioui bursting through the Olympique de Marseille defence to put FC Porto in front on Tuesday night was an indication of the confidence flowing through the Portuguese champions. Strong, powerful and quick, the 30-year-old's mesmerising run came as much as a surprise to the Porto supporters as it did to a static Marseille rearguard.
At the tail end of a somewhat itinerant career, the Moroccan may be unaccustomed to grabbing the headlines on Europe's biggest stage, but as the Portuguese champions build momentum as the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League nears, nothing, it seems, is impossible. If Sektioui's strike gave a tantalising glimpse of the skill running through this Porto side, then Lisandro López's late winner revealed the determination.
Rising high above the Marseille defence Lisandro powered in a header to earn his side a crucial and deserved victory that had threatened to elude them as the French side clung on tenaciously for a point. López has developed a habit of delivering when his team need him most. It was the Argentinian forward's ninth goal this season and fifth in just 14 UEFA Champions League appearances. His eight goals in eight league games go a long way in explaining why Porto have dropped just two points in the Portuguese Liga – his inspirational form in Europe has helped ensure Jesualdo Ferreira's side travel to Liverpool FC at the end of the month knowing a draw could be enough to earn their place in the knockout round with a game to spare.
López's superb scoring rate is even more impressive given that he has been deployed as Porto's lone striker, with the likes of Hélder Postiga and Adriano confined to the bench. His speed, adaptability and fierce competitive spirit have seen Porto supporters take him to heart and raised hopes of a recall to the Argentina squad. He was last called up in February and there is growing belief he could soon be adding to the two caps he won in 2005.
"I'm playing in the centre at the moment, right in front of goal, and that favours my game," said López, who joined Porto from Racing Club three years ago. "Fortunately everything is going my way and I want to keep scoring to improve on last season. Playing in the UEFA Champions League is every player's dream. This is my third year in it and it's simply amazing to be part of such a big competition."
Few had expected so much from Porto this season following the departure of lynchpins Pepe and Anderson to Real Madrid CF and Manchester United FC respectively. The club's winning mentality and successful recruiting policy, however, have once again ensured they are a force to reckon with. With centre-back Milan Stepanov already an established regular and exciting young talents such as Mario Bolatti and Leandro Lima showing glimpses of their undoubted ability, the future looks nothing but bright for the Dragons. Then of, course, there is always the magic of Ricardo Quaresma to fall back on.
The 2004 European champions’ visit to Anfield on 28 November will give a true indication of the quality of this latest Porto vintage. It was a daunting task even before the Reds’ UEFA Champions League record 8-0 victory against Beşiktaş JK. But Porto are unconcerned. "Afraid? That word simply does not exist in this team’s dictionary," goalkeeper Helton said. "We can go to Anfield and get the result we need to qualify. They scored eight goals but then again they only won three points. We have what it takes to succeed there." Coach Jesualdo Ferreira concurred. "We just need three points to qualify but we want to win the remaining two games and take all six points," he said. With that kind of ambition and López firing on all cylinders, Liverpool's task in two weeks' time promises to be anything but easy.
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