Four years ago, FC Porto won their second European Cup title by defeating Monaco 3-0 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, where ‘The Special One’ cemented his place as one of Europe’s top managers.
Next week, a much, much different Porto side will return to the sight of the club’s 2004 triumph, as they take on the stadium’s owners, Schalke 04, with a place in the Champions League quarterfinals on the line.
While Porto are on their way to a 22nd Portuguese top-flight title, and are appearing in the Champions League round of 16 for the fifth time in the last six seasons, Schalke, who have not won a German league title in five decades, will be making their first ever appearance in the last 16 of European club football’s showpiece.
The current Porto side that will take the pitch against Schalke looks nothing like the one that won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho, thanks to poaching from all around Europe (including by Mourinho after his move to Chelsea), but Jesualdo Ferreira definitely doesn’t have to worry about any shortcomings on talent.
Porto’s strengths are their play at home, where the opposition will rarely walk out with a win, much less a positive result of any kind, thanks to a defense that doesn’t see goalkeeper Helton picking too many out of his net. Their backline, spearheaded by Manchester United target Jose Bosingwa and Bruno Alves (linked with Liverpool and Aston Villa), has allowed only one goal in 10 home ties in the league, and surrendered only two in the CL group stage.
This isn’t to say that Porto relies solely on their defense, because they do have some talented playmakers. Ricardo Quaresma is once again a hot property, as he’s having a solid season, and rockin’ Moroccan Tarik Sektioui caught a lot of praise for a terrific goal he scored in the group stage against Marseille, on the way to Porto finishing atop of Group A, ahead of Liverpool.
But, if the goals are going to come from somewhere, it’ll be from the divine Argentine, Lisandro Lopez, who leads the Portuguese top flight in goals, and scored two in the Champions League group stage.
So, Schalke, who finished runner-up in Group B to Chelsea, do have a pretty tough task ahead of them if they want to give themselves a chance at the final eight.
Mirko Slomka’s side hasn’t had issues getting positive results this season, but have had issues consistently picking up three points, as shown by their current record of nine wins, eight draws, and two losses in the Bundesliga.
So, the onus will be on Kevin Kuranyi and Gerald Asamoah to produce up front, and for Schalke to play the full 180+, because they don’t want to be ruing missed opportunities when it’s all said and done. But, if their form coming out of the winter break is any indication, Porto might be the ones in for the biggest fight, as Schalke have picked up wins over VFB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund to move into third in the Bundesliga, only five points behind Bayern Munich, and all of a sudden back in the thick of the title race.
It won’t be a surprise to see Schalke go ahead in the first leg, as getting leads hasn’t been a problem for them. However, holding them has been at times, and they can’t afford to do that against Porto, especially because the odds will be stacked against them in Portugal. Schalke might actually have an advantage in the first leg, as their tie against Wolfsburg comes on Friday, and Porto’s league tie against away to Maritimo comes on Sunday, two days before the first leg on Tuesday.
Still, Porto have the edge, both in talent and in European experience, and even if they do get behind in the first leg, the return leg should see them triumph and progress.
There won’t be any confetti streaming from the sky this time around for Porto after their visit to Gelsenkirchen, and any celebrations will pale in comparison to those from their last time at the stadium, but they should move one step closer to being able to repeat that glory.
Go back to the full 16-team 2007/2008 UEFA Champions League 2nd Round Preview on Soccerlens.