Coach Valeri Karpin sees FC Spartak Moskva's quarter-final opponents FC Porto as "the favourites to win the whole tournament", with the Liga leaders set to face Russian opponents for the second UEFA Europa League tie in succession.
The two teams have never met, but Karpin knows enough about Porto to rate them as formidable opponents. "I had no preferences for the draw; some teams look stronger on paper, others a bit weaker, but it could be a different story on the pitch," he explained. "Porto are not easy opponents; they are the favourites to win the whole tournament. It would have been better to play against them in the final."
The statistics would seem to back up Karpin's concerns. While his side have won three of their six matches against Portuguese opposition, Porto have won four and drawn two of their meetings with Russian clubs, facing PFC CSKA Moskva on each occasion. Indeed, they beat the Army Men to reach the quarter-finals, prevailing 1-0 in Moscow and 2-1 at home, with Zoran Tošić's second-leg strike the first they have conceded against a Russian side.
Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo, who has played in all four of Spartak's European games since joining the club in the winter, said: "I didn't see Porto's games against CSKA; there is something wrong with my TV at the moment, but it is clear we are up against one of the top sides in Europe. We should approach it the same as we did the Ajax tie [in the round of 16] and everything will be fine."
Former Porto striker Fernando Gomes, who represented the club at the draw in Nyon, expects Spartak to be tough opponents. "Spartak are one of the strongest teams in Russia," the 54-year-old said. "They just knocked out Ajax, who are a prestigious side." However, he added: "Any of the sides would be tough at this stage."
Of some relief for the two-time European Golden Shoe winner was the fact that Portugal's three contenders in the last eight were kept apart, with SC Braga and SL Benfica joining Porto in the draw. "It is good that no [Portuguese] teams are facing each other at this stage," he said, with his home nation boasting their largest ever last-eight contingent in a UEFA competition. "It's fantastic for Portuguese football to be in this situation."
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