Europa League Predictions: Why Portugal will dominate Europe’s second tier competition
The final eight for the Europa League has been assembled, and surprisingly no club from England or Italy will feature in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, for the first time in their history, Portugal will be represented by three sides in the final eight of the same UEFA competition, with Porto, Benfica and Braga all in with a chance of advancing.
Here is the quarter-final schedule:
7 April and 14 April
And the semi-final draw:
Here’s a look at the four mouth-watering quarter-final ties, and how they will be won and lost next month.
Porto v Spartak Moscow
Having recently eased past CSKA Moscow, Porto will be confident of doing a Russian double, against the lesser-fancied Spartak Moscow. The Portuguese giants were magnificent on their travels to Russia in the previous round, recording a narrow 1-0 victory. If they can attain a positive result in front of their own fans in the first leg, they will be very confident of getting the job done in Russia once again.
Spartak are one of four sides remaining in the competition to have been relegated from the Champions League, so they must be respected. And with three wins from six in the premier tournament, the Russians have a proven ability to mix it with the best. Unfortunately though, they are unlikely to be any significant match for a Porto side that have won an incredible 22 of 24 matches domestically this season.
Predictions: Porto to comfortably win the first leg at home, making the result all too difficult to overturn in Russia.
Benfica v PSV Eindhoven
In a replay of the 1988 European Champion Clubs’ cup final, Benfica will certainly be out for revenge against the Dutch side that claimed victory in that final in a penalty shoot-out. With a potential meeting against Braga in the semi’s, Benfica will be confident of advancing to the final, should they get past PSV. Despite trailing Porto in the Primeira Liga by 13 points, Benfica have maintained an excellent record at home this season, winning 10 from 12 domestically, and recording some commendable results in the Champions League earlier in the campaign, with the highlight coming in a 4-3 triumph over French side Lyon.
PSV have had a mixed season in Europe thus far, as they have won just twice in five home fixtures, whilst they are unbeaten on the road. They currently lead the way in the Eredivisie, one point clear of fellow quarter-finalists Twente, and are well placed to claim a 22nd league title with just six rounds remaining. Benfica will be their first real test in Europe this season, having progressed through a relatively weak group, and carried on with wins over Lille and Rangers.
Predictions: Benfica will join Porto in the semi’s, but only narrowly on the away goals rule.
Villarreal v Twente
The Spanish side have been amongst the favourites, since comfortably advancing from Group D of the competition. They will definitely fancy their chances against Twente, having overcome tournament heavyweights Napoli and Bayer Leverkusen in the previous two rounds. And with the Europa League’s top goal scorer Giuseppe Rossi on fire both in La Liga and in Europe, it’s difficult to see how Twente will be able to stop him over the two legs.
The Dutch outfit suffered just two defeats in the Champions League, and finished in third place to reigning champions Inter Milan and Tottenham. Their home form has been exceptional this campaign, as they have an unbeaten record in all competitions. In the most recent round, they accounted for another of the tournament’s favourites in Zenit St. Petersburg, thrashing the Russian champions 3-0, all but assuring themselves of a place in the final eight.
Predictions: Villarreal will have too much quality, with Rossi continuing his red-hot goal scoring form.
Braga v Dynamo Kiev
In the fourth quarter final, the two clubs that eliminated the two remaining English hopefuls in Liverpool and Manchester City square off. On paper this tie may look to be the least enticing of all the quarter-finals, however it will be anything but that. Braga won three of their six fixtures in the Champions League, including a memorable 2-0 victory at home against English giants Arsenal. Their form on the road is a cause for concern, however they showed no problems in holding Liverpool to a scoreless draw at Anfield in their recent tie.
Dynamo Kiev, led by the former Milan superstar Andriy Shevchenko, will be desperate to achieve a positive result in the first leg, as they should be confident of edging out the Portuguese side on home soil. Fellow Ukrainians, Shakhtar Donetsk, did the double over Braga in the Champions League, so this should certainly provide Shevchenko and co. with some confidence.
Predictions: It could go either way, but if Braga can claim an advantage at home, they will do enough to cause the upset of the quarter-finals.
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