Athletic Club provide the latest threat to Sporting Clube de Portugal's unblemished home record under Ricardo Sá Pinto when they arrive in Lisbon for Thursday's UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg.
Since Sá Pinto succeeded Domingos Paciência as coach of the Lions in mid-February Sporting have recorded eight successive victories in the capital, scoring 13 goals and conceding just one – a penalty – in the process.
Though their form on the road has not been as good – they have won one, drawn two and lost three – the likes of Legia Warszawa, Manchester City FC, FC Metalist Kharkiv and title-chasing SL Benfica have all come undone within the confines of the Estádio José Alvalade.
If that provides cause for optimism ahead of Sporting's first European semi-final since 2005, then Sá Pinto's record in Basque derbies only heightens it. In four matches against Athletic while a Real Sociedad de Fútbol player between 1997 and 2000, the former Portugal striker helped his team to two draws and two wins, scoring in a 3-1 success at the Anoeta in November 1998.
While the all-Iberian tie is a test of Sporting's mettle at home – where they are also on an 11-game undefeated run in Europe dating back to a 2-0 loss to Brøndby IF in the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League play-offs – then the same applies to Athletic's form away from San Mamés. The Liga side, averaging exactly two goals a game in the competition, have won four of six outings on their travels since the start of the group stage.
The return from suspension of Daniel Carriço could help nullify a vibrant Athletic team who have earned plaudits aplenty for the manner of their victories at Manchester United FC (3-2) and FC Schalke 04 (4-2) in the previous two rounds.
Originally a centre-back, the 23-year-old Carriço has been deployed for much of the season in a holding midfield role, a move brought about partly by Elías, a late summer signing and the usual occupant of the position, being ineligible for Sporting's European campaign. "We are proud to be in the semi-final," said Carriço.
"We will play against Athletic with great ambition because we want to be in the final. We are focused on this match. We know what Bilbao have been doing in Europe. They have a very strong team with good players, but our weapon has been our fighting spirit. Our team is united."
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