Only one club from top-5 European leagues remains standing in last eight of the Europa League – Villarreal. This season’s last-eight line-up also witnesses a unique occurrence of three Portuguese teams in quarter-final stage of a European competition, a first in the history of the tournament.
FC Porto v Spartak Moscow
Thirty-three year old Villas Boas was long known as the Special Two – having played assistant to Jose Mourinho in multiple clubs. His stint in Porto so far has proved that he is no less than his peer – Porto was crowned as Portuguese Champions last week after building a massive sixteen point lead at the top. Porto travelled to Estadio de Luz, home of bitter rivals Benfica and defeated them 2-1 thus mathematically becoming champion. Boas’ stats are nothing short of incredible – 25 games played, won 23, lost 0, drawn 2, goals scored 58. Porto is still on course for a treble as they face off against Valery Karpin’s Spartak Moscow in Europa League.
Spartak’s form has been predictably unpredictable like last season. They started the 2011 season with an embarrassing defeat but followed it up with impressive performances against Ajax. Spartak’s defence has been suspect in past and it will interesting how it can cope with Porto’s South American trident of Guarin – Falcao – Hulk. Karpin was present among the spectators when Porto dispatched Benfica last weekend – the Russian admitted that in current form it will be difficult to stop the two time European Champions.
Prediction – FC Porto 3-1 Spartak Moscow
Benfica v PSV Eindhoven
A repeat of the European Cup final of 1988 sees PSV travel to Estadio de Luz to take on the Eagles. After romping to a domestic double last season Jorge Jesus’ side has suffered badly this season. Last weekend they had to suffer the ignominy of seeing their bitter rivals Porto become champion in Benfica’s home ground. Benfica hasn’t reached a European semi-final in last seventeen years – a record which they would love to change. Their job won’t be easy as veteran marksman with Nuno Gomez being ruled out for rest of the season. He scored three times over two legs when these two times last faced each other in 1998/99 season.
PSV have lost the pole position of Eredivisie to Twente in recent times. In previous round they scraped past Rangers with a 1-0 aggregate victory. Wingers Dzusdzsak and Lens have been particularly impressive for the Boeren this season and has courted the interest of several big name European clubs. Europa League is one of the few remaining hopes of silverware for Benfica this season and PSV won’t find it easy in Lisbon.
Prediction – Benfica 2-1 PSV
Villarreal v FC Twente
Villarreal is yet to lose a home game in Europe this season but their task won’t be easy against a tough-as-nails FC Twente side. The Yellow Submarines were handed one of the toughest routes in the competition – having to place top-3 teams from Italy and Germany, Napoli and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. They did exceptionally well in both rounds – the highlight being a 3-2 win over Bayer in the BayeArena. Juan Carlos Garrido has molded his team to play wonderful attacking football – reminiscent of the Pellegrini era. Giuseppe Rossi has finally matured into the world class player that he always promised to be while Nilmar has been banging goals frequently as well. Santi Cazorla and Bruno Soriano have also been pretty consistent this season.
FC Twente’s fairy tale story shows no sign of ending abruptly as they reached the top spot on Dutch table. Legendary goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme has proved to be an able successor to McClaren – Twente is tough to beat and very well organized. They made short work of Russian double winners Zenit in last round – putting the tie into bed after a 3-0 thrashing in home leg. Twente’s away record in Europa League has been mixed; while they lost 2-0 at St Petersburg they did obtain an emphatic 2-0 away win over Rubin Kazan in round of 32.
Prediction – Villarreal 2-1 FC Twente
Dynamo Kiev v Braga
Dynamo and Braga tread a similar path to last eight – both qualified by knocking out English teams. Dynamo qualified on basis of a solid performance at the Lobanovsky Stadium. They won the home leg 2-0 with impressive performances from Shevchenko, Milevskiy,Yarmolenko and Aliyev. Dynamo played sublime attacking football in the home leg and could have scored more goals if not for Joe Hart. The return leg in City of Manchester stadium showed the ugly side of Bilo-Syni. Despite losing Mario Balotelli, Man City created plenty of chances and Dynamo players relied on time wasting tactics through out second half. In the end, Dynamo progressed despite losing 1-0. Under Yuri Semin, Dynamo reached Europa League semi-final two seasons back. Semin is looking good to emulate that feat in his second term. Dynamo has lost just two matches since he took over as coach in December. Dynamo has been an extremely difficult side to defeat at home – having kept clean sheets in last four home games in Europe. With 20 goals the side from Kiev is also the most prolific attack in Europa League.
Braga stunned the famed Kop end in Anfield in round of sixteen. Very few experts gave the Arsenalistas any chance when they faced Liverpool in the away leg after a stalemate in Portugal. Yet, Braga upset all odds by grabbing a memorable 1-0 win. Alan’s spot kick in Anfield was also Braga’s hundredth goal in all European competitions. Dynamo is facing a crisis in goal-keeping department which will give Braga an outside chance in this tie. Otherwise, it will be an uphill task for the Portuguese side to salvage anything from away leg.
Prediction – Dynamo 2-0 Braga