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Europa League preview: Liga Sagres dominates final four

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 26 Apr 2011

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The Liga Sagres is guaranteed a representative in the Europa League final, with Portugal boasting three of the teams to reach the last four.

Braga travel to Benfica in an all-Portuguese semi-final first leg on Thursday, while newly crowned Liga Sagres champions Porto host Spanish club Villarreal on the same day.

The match-up between Andre Villas Boas’ Porto and Juan Garrido’s Villarreal at the Estadio Dragao appears to be the pick of the ties, with both teams in stunning form during the latter stages of the competition.

As well as coasting to their domestic title, Porto accounted for Sevilla and CSKA Moscow in the Europa League knock-out stages, before grabbing the headlines with a crushing 10-3 aggregate victory over Spartak Moscow in the quarter-finals.

But Villarreal are unlikely to prove such easy pickings – La Liga’s fourth-placed club recorded their own big win, beating Eredivisie champions Twente 8-2 over the two legs of their last-eight clash.

Porto can call on the talents of some of the best players outside of the Champions League, with their front three – Brazilian Hulk, Colombian Radamel Falcao and Portuguese Silvestre Varela – likely to attract the interest of Europe’s big guns when the transfer window reopens.

Villarreal are not without their stars – former Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi has been a stand-out performer this season, while Borja Valero provides both steel and creativity in midfield.

The winner will earn a place in the final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, where they will meet either Benfica or Braga, who are second and third respectively in the Liga Sagres.

Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side defeated Stuttgart and Paris Saint-Germain in the first and second knockout stages, before beating PSV Eindhoven 6-3 on aggregate to book a semi-final berth.

Their Argentine contingent – speedy forward Javier Saviola, midfielder Nicolas Gaitan and playmaker Pablo Aimar – are all capable of a decisive contribution at Estadio da Luz.

Benfica began the season in the Champions League, but exited the group stage after finishing behind Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal.

They claimed the scalps of Liverpool and Dynamo Kiev, while also beating Lech Posnan, to reach this stage of the tournament.

Brazilian trio of Lima, Paulo Cesar and Alan provide the biggest threat for Domingos Paciencia’s team.

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