Third in the Liga, nine points shy of leaders SL Benfica, FC Porto's hopes of claiming a fourth successive Portuguese title are dwindling, with new coach Luís Castro charged with restoring their winning mentality.
The Dragons take on SSC Napoli in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie looking to reclaim the trophy they lifted in 2003 and 2011. It took away goals to get them past Eintracht Frankfurt in the round of 32, but the victory – however narrow – was the cause of major celebrations. "It was proof this group can overcome adversity," said goalkeeper Helton. "This was no ordinary qualification."
However, within days of the 3-3 draw in Germany that sealed their success, coach Paulo Fonseca was dismissed, a 1-0 home defeat by Estoril Praia and the subsequent 2-2 draw at Vitória SC prompting the club to shuffle their pack last Wednesday. Now his successor Luís Castro – who has stepped up from running the reserve team to lead the seniors for the remainder of the season – has the task of restoring his side's belief.
The 52-year-old certainly talked a good game following his unveiling, pledging to continue to battle for trophies on four fronts. "This is a job that carries a great responsibility," the former defender explained. "FC Porto have a great winning tradition – this is one of the most titled clubs in the world. We'll do our best so that everything works out well – and try to achieve the goal of winning all the trophies we are fighting for."
Sunday's 4-1 Liga home victory over FC Arouca represented a solid start for the man who spent seven years as Porto's youth team coordinator before returning to pitchside with the reserves in 2013. However, as he prepares his charges for Napoli, he is up against a worrying statistic: Porto have not won in four UEFA Europa League games, with back-to-back losses to Manchester City FC in the 2011/12 round of 32 and then the two draws with Eintracht.
Castro can only hope that Ricardo Quaresma's presence can inspire the team once more. Between 2004 and 2008, the feisty winger enjoyed the best years of his career with a Porto side that landed four league championships. Now 30, Quaresma has returned home seeking to replicate past glories. "This is where I feel happy and I'm prepared to help the club to win trophies," he said after signing as a free agent in January. "My joy in playing football returned once I spoke to [Porto] president [Pinto da Costa]."
Quaresma has emerged as the natural leader following Lucho González's departure for Qatar, his seven goals and two assists giving little indication he had not played a competitive match in eight months since leaving al-Ahli SC last May. The charisma of the one-time boy wizard – nicknamed 'Harry Potter' in his early days at Porto – may be crucial against Napoli, with a FIFA World Cup place this summer still not beyond the realms of possibility for Quaresma.
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