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Portuguese triple crown still a possibility

Three of the four UEFA Europa League quarter-finals seem all but settled, with an all-Portuguese semi-final and then final very much on the cards as the ties conclude on Thursday.

Benfica, who carry a big lead to the Netherlands, train at PSV ahead of their decider
Benfica, who carry a big lead to the Netherlands, train at PSV ahead of their decider ©Getty Images

An all-Portuguese semi-final and then final remains a strong possibility as the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals conclude on Thursday.

Three of the four ties look to be all but settled, in favour of SL Benfica, FC Porto and Villarreal CF, while SC Braga have reason to be confident after a 1-1 first-leg draw against FC Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, Dynamo chairman Ihor Surkis is optimistic, explaining: "We will need to score a goal and see how the game develops. Whatever happens, we have to play football and not sit tight in defence."

If a goal at either end would make all the difference in that fixture, it would take at least three in the Benfica net to give PSV Eindhoven a chance of making it to the last four following their 4-1 loss in Lisbon. PSV keeper Andreas Isaksson insists that pride should be a major motivation for Fred Rutten's side.

"We need to show we can play better than we did on Thursday, and put pressure on them," said Isaksson. "It's not an easy position for the second leg, but we have a chance and we're going to take it; we want to fight for it."

The winners of those two ties will meet in the semi-finals on 28 April and 5 May, while the other last-four encounter appears likely to pit Porto against Villarreal after both teams won their openers 5-1. Only three times in UEFA club competition history have a side recovered a four-goal first-leg deficit to win a tie, yet where there is life, there is hope.

FC Spartak Moskva's Aiden McGeady was shocked by his team's capitulation at the Estádio do Dragão and, perhaps understandably, does not rate their prospects in the return. "We can try and reduce the deficit, but the way we played tonight it's probably not going to happen," said the midfielder, the only Irish player with any chance of featuring at the final in Dublin on 18 May.

FC Twente's plight against Villarreal seems equally dismal, but with Nilmar suspended and captain Gonzalo out for the season with an injury sustained at El Madrigal on Thursday, the visitors to Enschede will have some concerns. Bruno Soriano, one of five players to have figured in all 11 of the Yellow Submarine's games since the group stage, said: "We know Twente are a good team and they will definitely want to show it at home, but we have a good advantage to take there and we just have to give a good confident performance."