Portuguese trio, Villarreal shine in Europa League

PARIS, April 8, 2011 (AFP) - Spanish side Villarreal and Portuguese giants FC Porto put their Europa League-winning credentials on show with 5-1 wins apiece in the first leg of the quarter-finals on Thursday.

Three Portuguese sides -- Porto, Benfica and Sporting Braga -- are among the last eight of Europe's second tier club competition for the first time, boosting the chances of an all-Portuguese final at the Dublin Arena on May 18.

AFP - FC Porto´s goalkeeper from Brazil Helton Arruda stops a ball during their UEFA Europa League quarter finals first leg football match against Spartak at the Dragao Stadium in Porto, on April 7.

While 2004 Champions League winners Porto impressed with a 5-1 crushing of Spartak Moscow, Madrid-based Villarreal were just as impressive on their way to the exact same scoreline against hapless Dutch side FC Twente.

Another Dutch side, PSV Eindhoven, were on the wrong side of a 4-1 defeat to Benfica while Sporting Braga did well to come away with a 1-1 draw during their visit to Dynamo Kiev.

All three Portuguese sides are now perfectly placed to qualify for the last four following the second leg of the quarter-finals on April 14.

However Villarreal -- who have never won the title -- showed they won't be easily discounted.

Currently fourth in Spain's La Liga, the 'Yellow Submarine' wasted no time in launching wave after wave of attack on the Dutch league leaders.

The hosts left for the half-time interval 3-0 ahead after goals from Carlos Marchena, Borja Valero and Nilmar, who scored the first of a brace on the stroke of half time.

Europa League top scorer Giuseppe Rossi grabbed his ninth of the competition with a 20-yard drive in the 56th minute while Nilmar struck again 10 minutes from full time.

A momentary lapse of concentration on the part of Villarreal's defence allowed Twente striker Marc Janko to head home a consolation goal in injury time.

Benfica joined in the suspense-killing with a 4-1 rout of PSV Eindhoven, winners of the old UEFA Cup in 1978.

Pablo Aimar opened the scoring in the 37th minute, with Eduardo Salvio giving the Lisbon side a huge boost with a quick-fire brace in the 45th and 52nd minutes.

Second half substitute Zakaria Labyad hit back for PSV in the 80th minute but by then it was too little too late. Diminutive Argentine forward Javier Saviola added a goal in the fourth minute of injury time.

Braga, who eliminated Liverpool in the last round of the competition, went behind to Andriy Yarmolenko's sixth-minute opener but were back on level terms when Oleh Gusev turned into his own net seven minutes later.

Porto, who are already assured of winning the Portuguese title, won the UEFA Cup in 2003, and went on to win the Champions League a year later under the leadership of current Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.

The northern Portuguese side staked an early claim for a place in the final thanks to a hat-trick from Colombian forward Falcao, who scored his last two goals in the final 10 minutes.

Earlier Silvestre Varela and Maicon had added one apiece, leaving Spartak Moscow, who scored a late consolation through Kirill Kombarov, virtually out of the competition.

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