Porto trace Mourinho footsteps in Europa fest

PARIS, April 27, 2011 (AFP) - Jose Mourinho may be chasing Champions League glory with Real Madrid, but his influence will be felt in the Europa League on Thursday when former club Porto tackle Villarreal in the semi-finals.

AFP - Real Madrid's coach Jose Mourinho (R) and Real Madrid's forward Cristiano Ronaldo (L) take part in a training session in Madrid on April 26, 2011, on the eve of the Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Porto have already wrapped up the Portuguese title, leading Benfica by 19 points and yet to lose a league game.

Nine years ago, they saw off Italy's Lazio at this stage and claimed the old UEFA Cup, the Europa League's predecessor, with a thrilling win over Celtic, as Mourinho came to prominence for the first time as a coach.

A year later, he would bolster his burgeoning reputation by leading Porto to Champions League glory against Monaco.

Since those heady days, and with Mourinho having gone on from strength to strength first with Chelsea, then Inter Milan and now Real, Porto have had to be satisfied with domestic dominance.

But now they are on the up once more under Andre Villas Boas, their 33-year-old coach and former Mourinho assistant.

Having thrashed Spartak Moscow 10-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals Porto will fancy their chances against Villarreal in the first leg, but the Spanish survivors were almost as impressive in swamping Dutch side Twente 8-2 on aggregate in the last round.

While Porto and Villarreal go head to head a little slice of history will be made as Benfica tackle Sporting Braga in the first ever all-Portuguese UEFA club competition meeting.

Benfica, who like Porto have won the Champions League twice, put out PSV Eindhoven in the quarters while Braga, having already dumped out Liverpool, edged out Dynamo Kiev on away goals.

History would suggest 1983 UEFA Cup winners Benfica are the likelier to reach the May 18 final in Dublin as the 'Eagles' have won 72 of 110 Portuguese league encounters to just 11 for Braga.

The first all-Portuguese clash could have come back in 2003 when it was only a Celtic win over Boavista which prevented the latter meeting close neighbours Porto in the final.

With the final looming large, players such as Porto's Falcao - a hattrick hero against Spartak - and Brazilian forward Hulk will be out to impress - as will Giuseppe Rossi, who has impressed with Villarreal.

The one-time Manchester United, Newcastle and Parma striker took time out from his preparations Tuesday by slamming reports he may be on his way to Barcelona.

"I've said all along I don't want speculation about my future and I don't know anything (about potential offers). I am very happy where I am. I want to achieve something great with Villarreal," insisted the 24-year-old.

Should Porto overcome Rossi and company to reach the final, the resulting all-Portuguese affair will not be much of a rarity in that seven UEFA Cup finals were contested by sides from the same country.

That started with Tottenham's 1972 win over Wolves while the most recent occurrence was Sevilla's 2007 success against Espanyol.

Semi-final, first leg fixtures (both 1905 GMT):

Benfica (POR) v Braga (POR)

Porto (POR) v Villarreal (ESP)

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