Iberian clubs target Europa stranglehold


PARIS – An Iberian stranglehold on the Europa League semi-finals is on the cards as three Portuguese and one Spanish side go into Thursday’s last eight second leg ties holding all the aces. Only major upsets will deny FC Porto and Benfica their semi-final places after lopsided wins last week. Porto, 2004 Champions League winners under Jose Mourinho, travel to Spartak Moscow on the back of a 5-1 trouncing of the Russians, with Colombian forward Falcao securing a hat-trick to take his Europea league haul to ten goals. Benfica are similarly well placed after their 4-1 beating of PSV Eindhoven. Villarreal too are almost home and dry after their 5-1 drubbing of FC Twente.
Only three times in UEFA club competition history have a side recovered a four-goal first-leg deficit to win a tie. Thursday’s reamining second leg fixture sees Sporting Braga in the driving seat having gained an all important away goal in their first leg 1-1 draw at Dynamo Kiev. The Europa League final is being held at Dublin’s newlook Lansdowne Road, and the only Irish player who could conceivably make it onto the pitch on May 18 is Spartak Moscow’s Aiden McGeady. McGeady was shocked by his team’s demise at the Estadio do Dragao against Porto, the midfielder telling uefa.com: “We can try and reduce the deficit, but the way we played…it’s probably not going to happen.”
Porto are the last Portuguese side to claim Europe’s second club competition, lifting the 2003 UEFA Cup, Mourinho’s men beating Celtic in the final. Like Spartak, PSV, winners of the UEFA Cup in 1978, appear to have left themselves too much to do against Benfica. Eindhoven keeper Andreas Isaksson said: “We need to show we can play better than we did on Thursday, and put pressure on them. “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.” Dynamo Kiev are intent on going for the jugular against Braga, the Ukraine side’s chairman Ihor Surkis saying: “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.” Braga, who knocked out Liverpool in the last round, went behind to Andriy Yarmolenko’s sixth-minute opener but grabbed the all important away goal when Oleh Gusev turned into his own net seven minutes later.