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FC Porto have been installed as firm favourites to add the UEFA Europa League crown to their Liga title over the next three weeks, not least by semi-final opponents Villarreal CF. Yet for defender Rolando, as watchful with his words as he is at the heart of the Dragons' defence, it remains a dream.
Wednesday was a typical spring morning in northern Portugal. On sheltered side roads the sun lures you into its warm embrace only for a stiff, chill breeze, to send you scurrying back for more clothing once you hit the main thoroughfares. Porto are determined to avoid being caught similarly cold as they gear up for their meeting with Villarreal, doggedly shaking off the favourites tag being hung around their neck.
Visiting midfielder Bruno Soriano, for one, says the Spanish side arrive in Portugal as underdogs; Portuguese international Rolando is having none of it. "I don't know why they are saying we are favourites," said the 25-year-old. "
They're a very good team and have as much right to be here as we do; they got here playing well, beating good teams in the process."
For proof of that, just ask SSC Napoli and Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Both were ultimately undone by Giuseppe Rossi, whose ten goals have underpinned the Yellow Submarine's success. Rolando, the one ever-present in a Porto team that have shipped just 13 goals in 27 Liga games this season, is cautious, but not unduly concerned. "We aren't worried about Rossi," he said.
"We have come up against very good players before. The secret is that we defend as a team and attack as a team. Obviously [this tie] carries more weight, more importance, but we have done well until now, and are hoping to continue in the same vein.
If we stick to our game plan, our own style, and play like we always do then we will get a good result."
Rolando talks like he plays: focused, vigilant, unbending. The way he rebuffed questions about whether he would prefer to face SC Braga or SL Benfica in the final – "they're both strong" – drew a broad, knowing smile from coach André Villas-Boas, sitting to his left.
Porto's unrelenting success so far this season has led to speculation over both coach and defender's futures, but having won their last 12 matches the pair's hunger has not waned and Rolando says transfer talk will have to wait until the summer. He has more immediate ambitions: "At the start of the season the championship was our goal and the Europa League a dream. We have the championship now…"
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