Only Villarreal CF stand in the way of Portuguese glory in this season's UEFA Europa League yet the Spanish outfit should provide a stern test of their Iberian neighbours.
The Yellow Submarine, who are fourth in the Liga, take on the competition's top scorers and Portugal's newly crowned champions FC Porto in the semi-finals, with the first leg at the Estádio do Dragão. Should Villarreal succeed in eliminating André Villas-Boas's men, another Portuguese outfit will await them in next month's Dublin final, as SL Benfica and SC Braga also compete in the last four.
Porto's form has been so formidable they will approach the contest with considerable confidence. Indeed, the 2004 UEFA Champions League winners have not lost a league match this term, boasting a 19-point lead over their closest rivals. Their European record is equally impressive, with the ten quarter-final goals registered over two legs against FC Spartak Moskva highlighting the team's potency and taking them to the brink of a fifth European final.
Yet the Dragons have traditionally struggled against Spanish opposition, winning only 11 of 34 previous meetings. Furthermore, since the turn of the century they have triumphed just once in eight home games against sides from across the border. Villarreal will take heart from those statistics – not to mention the fact they are unbeaten in four match-ups with Portuguese clubs – as they bid to extend their run of eight games without a loss in the competition. Giuseppe Rossi's ten goals have played a big part in that sequence, although the forward remains one goal shy of Porto's Falcao, the competition's leading marksman.
While goals will be expected at the Dragão, Benfica's encounter with Braga – the first-ever all-Portuguese European tie – could be a far cagier affair. The Arsenalistas have founded their success on solid defending and counterattacking, scoring only four goals in six UEFA Europa League outings. Since beating Liverpool FC in their round of 16 opener, Domingos Paciência's charges have found the net once in three fixtures – and even that was an own goal. Benfica, who like Braga started out in the UEFA Champions League, will have history in their favour in the first leg in Lisbon: the two-time European champions have lost just once in 55 home matches versus Braga.
Both ties begin on 28 April and end on 5 May.
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