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Porto's toughest task

FC Porto expect to face their sternest test this season against S.S. Lazio tonight.

By Richard Whittle

FC Porto may be running away with the Portuguese league but coach José Mourinho admitted their progress to the UEFA Cup final would be less than straightforward ahead of the semi-final meeting with S.S. Lazio.

Stiffer challenge
The sides meet in the first leg at the Antas stadium in Porto on Thursday evening and Mourinho is well aware that the Italians offer a stiffer challenge not only in relation to Porto's domestic rivals but also to that of their previous opponents in the tournament.

'Great players'
"Their squad is full of great players and will indeed be the toughest opponents we have yet faced, [but] we also have ambitions and the ability to win this this tie," said Mourinho, who rated his side's prospects at "50-50".

Deserved victory
Porto are currently 13 points clear of SL Benfica at the top of the Super Liga but were made to suffer in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, losing the first leg 1-0 at home to Panathinaikos FC before recording a 2-0 victory in Athens.

No easy ride
Lazio coach Roberto Mancini is certainly wary of the threat posed by the 18-times Portuguese champions and is not expecting an easy ride in the country's second city. "It will be a particularly tough game," he said. "Porto are very technical side and have the same philosophy as ourselves: always play to win whether it is home or away. They are a team we'd rather avoid but in a UEFA Cup semi-final it is inevitable you will meet an opponent of a certain level."

Sentiment buried
Lazio defender Fernando Couto is also not underestimating the home side. The Portuguese international started his career at Porto but admitted that any sentiment would be buried once the game started.

'Really difficult'
"It's a strange feeling for me," said Couto. "However, that will disappear when the referee blows his whistle. Obviously I would have preferred to play Porto in the final but they are the strongest team we could have faced at this stage – it will be really difficult."

Tactical insight
Couto is certainly familiar with the majority of the Porto personnel and confident he can pass on valuable tactical insight to Mancini, having worked under Mourinho at FC Barcelona. He said: "Mourinho was assistant to Louis van Gaal when I was there and he always wants to play entertaining football. His sides like to keep possession but are very dangerous going forward."

Silva ruled out
Couto will come up against international team-mate Deco, who scored Portugal's winner in the recent 2-1 victory over Brazil, and winger Paulo Ferreira who provided the cross for the first goal against the world champions. However, defender Mario Silva has been ruled out with a thigh injury.

Stankovic available
A similar injury has sidelined Lazio defender Jaap Stam who is also expected to miss the return leg in Rome on 24 April. Midfield player Dejan Stankovic has recovered from a knee injury sustained in Sunday’s 3-0 Serie A win at home to Como Calcio and is available for selection, while Simone Inzaghi replaces the ineligible Bernardo Corrado in attack.

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