Villarreal CF face a massive task if they are to prevent an all-Portuguese final, but with FC Porto almost through, SC Braga and SL Benfica are battling for their pass to Dublin.
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An all-Portuguese UEFA Europa League showpiece on 18 May looks all but certain ahead of the semi-final deciders, with FC Porto seemingly destined to face SC Braga or SL Benfica in Dublin.
Four goals in a 5-1 win against Villarreal CF enabled the competition's top scorer, Falcao, to match Jürgen Klinsmann's tournament record of 15 in one season, set when FC Bayern München won the 1995/96 UEFA Cup. "I'm aware I'm now level with Klinsmann and that makes me very proud," the 25-year-old told UEFA.com. "But I'm not done yet."
Having won all of their away games in Europe this term, André Villas-Boas's recently-crowned Portuguese champions will know that the final is within sight as they head for El Madrigal, but while the odds are stacked vertiginously against the Yellow Submarine, centre-back Carlos Marchena said: "While there's life there's hope. It's going to be a great match at our place and why shouldn't we dream of a comeback?"
The tiny ray of hope for the Spanish outfit is that three teams have previously recovered from four-goal first-leg defeats to prevail in two-legged UEFA club competition games; Leixões SC in the 1961/62 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round, FK Partizan in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup second round and Real Madrid CF in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup third round.
No miracles are required in the other semi-final, where Braga play host to Benfica in the concluding leg of the first all-Portuguese tie in UEFA club competition. The Arsenalistas cannot match the Eagles' pedigree, but they have a good chance of prevailing nonetheless, having conceded in only one of their eight European home games this season.
Benfica are 2-1 up, as they were after the first leg of last season's quarter-finals before losing the return 4-1 at Liverpool FC. Lessons, however, have been learned according to midfielder Javi García. "In a European competition, having won at home, we know how to play in the away game," he insisted.
Seven previous UEFA Cup finals were contested by sides representing the same association:
- 1971/72 Tottenham Hotspur FC 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers FC (agg)
- 1979/80 Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach
(agg; Eintracht won on away goals)
- 1989/90 Juventus 3-1 ACF Fiorentina (agg)
- 1990/91 FC Internazionale Milano 2-1 AS Roma (agg)
- 1994/95 Parma FC 2-1 Juventus (agg)
- 1997/98 FC Internazionale Milano 3-0 S.S. Lazio
- 2006/07 Sevilla FC 2-2 RCD Espanyol
(aet; Sevilla won 3-1 on penalties)