By Peter Stirling
Sporting Clube de Portugal's dream of winning the UEFA Cup at their own Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon in May has been boosted before Thursday's Round of 16 first-leg tie because a series of injuries have disrupted Middlesbrough FC's planning for the match at the Riverside stadium.
Middlesbrough will definitely be without Ugo Ehiogu, Gaizka Mendieta and Malcolm Christie while George Boateng and Mark Viduka are not yet fully fit. In addition David Knight, the English club's 18-year-old third-choice keeper, could make his debut if Mark Schwarzer (knee) and Carlo Nash (groin strain) both fail to recover.
Sporting, whose tilt at the Portuguese SuperLiga title faltered when they lost 1-0 at CF Os Belenenses on Sunday, should welcome back influential centre-backs Beto and Anderson Polga, both missing against Belenenses.
Should Middlesbrough slip up over two legs, Newcastle United FC will be hoping to carry the English flag into the last eight but they face a tough task at Olympiacos CFP, currently top in Greece and winners of all four of their home European matches this season. Newcastle have won all four of their away games so something will have to give.
Newcastle reached the semi-finals last season, as did Villarreal CF, who also have a difficult assignment at former European champions FC Steaua Bucuresti. But Villarreal, one of three Spanish survivors along with Sevilla FC and Real Zaragoza, are unbeaten in four European away ties and will be desperate to avoid giving Steaua another Spanish stroll after dismissing holders Valencia CF.
Parma FC, the only former winners left in the hat, will miss the steadying influence of defender Paolo Cannavaro for both legs against Sevilla. Cannavaro was banned for two matches for his sending-off against VfB Stuttgart. Sevilla, meanwhile, will be without injured midfielder Adriano Correia while coach Joaquín Caparrós has been banned from the touchline for straying on to the pitch against Panathinaikos FC in the last round.
Elsewhere, a French side will be guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals with LOSC Lille Métropole taking on AJ Auxerre. It will be only the second time that French teams have met in one of Europe's premier club tournaments. FK Austria Wien welcome Zaragoza to their Ernst Happel stadium for the second time in the UEFA Cup this season, having beaten the Spaniards 1-0 in the group stage.
FK Partizan captain Saša Ilic begins a four-match ban and skips both legs against PFC CSKA Moskva as well as a possible quarter-final. Ilic was sent off for spitting at an FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk opponent in the last round. In the night's other tie, FC Shakhtar Donetsk have home advantage for the first leg against Dutch high-fliers AZ Alkmaar.
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