Club Atlético de Madrid coach Javier Aguirre is expecting a "balanced tie" after the Spanish side were drawn against two-times winners FC Porto in Friday's draw for the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League.
Atlético have impressed on their return to the competition and were one of just five sides to advance through the group stage unbeaten. With Porto pipping Arsenal FC to top spot in Group H, though, Aguirre knows the 2004 UEFA Champions League winners will present a stern test come February. "They are a strong side who have recently been champions of Europe," he said. "They are well coached and have some top players and we know it won't be easy. I think it will be a balanced tie."
Atlético president Enrique Cerezo added: "Porto are doing well in their domestic league and will be tough opponents so we'll have to be very cautious. For me, they are just as difficult as a Manchester United or a Juventus. You mustn't forget that they qualified for this round as group winners. We knew we would have to face a top team no matter who we were drawn against."
The two sides have met just once before in a competitive tie with Atlético running out 3-1 aggregate winners in the first round of the 1963/64 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. More relevant perhaps is Porto's poor record against Spanish sides overall, having won just eight and lost 17 of the 28 games they have played. Former Porto goalkeeper Vítor Baía, now the club's international relations director, played in one of those wins against RC Deportivo La Coruña in the semi-finals of the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League. Porto advanced 1-0 on aggregate before beating AS Mónaco FC in the final. While respecting Atlético, Baía believes Porto can face this tie with confidence.
"Atlético are a team with history in Europe, although they have not been in the great competitions in recent years," he said. "They are a strong side trying to recover their prestige, so we will approach this tie with enormous caution and respect. We are going into these games with the same optimism we have every year. We are, alongside Manchester United, the team with the most participations in the competition." Porto captain Pedro Emanuel added: "They are a strong team. I think our chances are 50/50 and I'm sure they will be two excellent games. Atlético are strong in the attack and we mustn't forget they ended the group phase unbeaten."
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