Despite scoring FC Porto's last-minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, Mariano still believes Manchester United FC are favourites to advance, but admits his side "have certainly gained a lot of confidence".
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Manchester United FC may still be the favourites but FC Porto's 2-2 draw at Old Trafford ensured that confidence levels in the home camp should be sky-high for next week's UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg, according to goalscoring substitute Mariano.
The Argentinian had been on the field nine minutes when he struck the 89th-minute goal that earned Porto a draw – and boosted the Portuguese champions' prospects of progressing. "We've certainly gained a lot of confidence," Mariano told uefa.com. "We were quite calm because we have a lot of faith in the way we are playing as a team. To get a draw with two goals is very important; it's going to give us a lot of belief as we work towards the second leg. But Manchester United, as the champions and because of their history and their quality, are still the favourites."
'Early goal settled us'
Porto preyed on United's present defensive vulnerability, attacking with speed and precision, particularly in the first half when they took a fourth-minute lead through Cristián Rodríguez. "Scoring the early goal settled us," added Mariano, who like his fellow South American Rodríguez, recorded his first UEFA Champions League goal at Old Trafford. "We knew they were a team that had no major weaknesses. They have good players throughout the team but we tried to take advantage of the weaker points of their game. We'd studied their games and we focused on trying to hit them on the counterattack when they had lost the ball."
To measure Porto's first-half threat, they had six shots on target to United's two – one of which yielded Wayne Rooney's equaliser. And although United came into the game more after the break – and seemed set to win when Carlos Tévez made it 2-1 after 85 minutes – the visitors still finished with more efforts on target and twice as many corners. "We played an intelligent game," said Porto's Argentinian playmaker Lucho. "We kept our discipline, we used the ball well, carefully and created several scoring opportunities. We gave away two goals but we produced a great performance. Yet we can't get carried away as we've still not achieved anything."
Porto have never lost a home game against English opposition and defender Bruno Alves believes they have a 50-50 chance now of reaching the semi-finals. He said: "We have the same chance of getting through as Manchester United, although it will be a hard game in our stadium. Porto did well – we showed we have a great history in the Champions League. We've had highs and lows in the competition but we are a team with a strong personality. The tie is open. We are at home against United with two away goals to our credit."