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Merciless Porto lead Portuguese domination

Posted: 14 Apr 2011 09:47 PM PDT

Friday, April 15th, 2011 12:19:00

MOSCOW: Porto completed a 10-3 aggregate win at Spartak Moscow in the quarterfinals and join Braga, Benfica and Villarreal in the last four.

Porto, who had already won the domestic league last weekend, reached the semifinals in emphatic style with a 5-2 win at Luzhniki Stadium this morning.

They could have been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas after hammering Spartak 5-1 in the first-leg at home, but continued where they left off and won easily in the second.

The Porto goals came from five different players with Hulk, Cristian Rodriguez, Fredy Guarin, Falcao and Ruben Micael all scoring.

Artem Dzjuba and Ferreira Ari struck consolation goals for the hosts.

Braga capped a historic feat for Portuguese teams by holding Dynamo Kiev to a 0-0 draw, despite playing almost three-quarters of the game with 10 men in another match.

Starting the night level after a 1-1 draw in Kiev last week, Braga shrugged off the 28th minute dismissal of Paulo Cesar to earn a goalless draw which saw them through on away goals.

Braga were up against it after Cesar's dismissal for a foul on Andriy Yarmolenko, but they had the best of the chances in the first-half with Rodrigo Lima going closest.

Lima also fired wide from a good position in the second-half as Kiev's expected late assault never materialised.

The visitors' hopes were further hit late on when Goran Popov was sent off for an unnecessary foul on Alan.

Braga will meet Benfica in an all-Portuguese last four clash after Jorge Jesus' men rode an early storm in Holland before securing a 2-2 draw with PSV Eindhoven and a 6-3 aggregate win.

Trailing 4-1 from the first-leg, PSV stunned Benfica by clawing back to a single-goal deficit through Balazs Dzsudzsak in the 17th minute and a Jeremain Lens' strike eight minutes later.

But Benfica held their nerve and gave themselves breathing space when Luisao narrowed the gap just before the break.

Oscar Cardozo's 63rd minute penalty ended PSV's slim hopes.

Spanish outfit Villarreal also sealed their semifinal place and a tie against Porto as they came from behind to claim a 3-1 win against FC Twente in Holland which was enough to send them through 8-2 on aggregate.

Emir Bajrami put the home side ahead at the interval but when Dwight Tiendalli was sent off in the 60th minute and Giuseppe Rossi scored the resulting penalty, it was all over.

Marco Ruben, with another penalty, and Cani completed an easy win.

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Messi jinx

Posted: 14 Apr 2011 09:58 PM PDT

...but Barca wizard can finally break Mourinho duck at Bernabeu

Friday, April 15th, 2011 12:17:00

HOLA!

Barcelona's goal-machine Lionel Messi (pic) has been scoring like nobody's business all this while.

He has already scored a massive 48 goals in all competitions thus far this season — breaking the club record of 47 set by Brazilian Ronaldo.

He is also on the verge of becoming the first player in Spanish football to reach the 50-goal mark considering the number of matches left this season.

But interestingly, Messi has yet to strike against a team managed by Jose Mourinho from eight matches involving Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

There seems to be this jinx.

Barca may have thrashed Real 5-0 in the first El Clasico this season at Nou Camp last November but Messi was not on the scoresheet!

The Argentine will be presented with another chance to break the duck in the second El Clasico at Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday (3am).

A win here for Barca will put them in a pretty good position to retain the Primera Liga title as they will have a 11-point advantage with six matches left.

Can he do it? Chances are he can via an individual solo.

Messi surely hopes he can and in the process assist the team to a favourable result in this tough clash which can turn out to be another blockbuster.

He will try hard despite the expected attention given the no-nonsense Real defence.

Anyway, La Pulga or "The Flea", may well be in "peace of mind" this time in his mission to break the jinx as it is already about three months that his reported break-up with girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo whom he met when both were five in Argentina.

Apparently, she was the woman he had dated since high school. There will not much pain in the heart.

Oh yes...apparently, he is solo now!

Barca manager Josep "Pep" Guardiola is eagerly anticipating the upcoming four matches against Real, making it clear the Catalans are eager to prove they can take on the best opponents possible.

"It's the chance to compete with one the strongest teams around. No matter how many times we play them, they are still the most powerful team in every sense — the strongest, the ones in the best form, the ones with an unstoppable squad," he told Barca's website.

"We shall accept the challenge and go for it. It doesn't matter what condition we are in. What matters is mentality and desire. This is a gift that any sports person would be delighted to accept. In this situation, all we can do is thank the players, and treat what's happening as a gift."

Guardiola does not believe the pressure will affect his players.

"The lads will deal with the pressure in a very relaxed way, trying to do their job in the best possible way. We can't do any better than that. Now we have to compete with very strong opponents."

After the clash on Sunday, the two rivals will play in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday.

Finally, the two titans will meet in the semifinals of the Champions League. In short, another three thrilling shows are on the cards.

Barca midfield general Xavi believes a big part of their success is down to the squad being full of "normal people".

"We are all very normal people. The dressing room is very simple, full of people who enjoy football and have great respect for one another. People will judge us as people on how we behave on the field," he told Barca TV.

"Normal people"? Barca are seeking to further bolster their trophy cabinet with a treble this season and defender Gerard Pique admits that though it is possible, it will be tough.

"We have faith. We can win the treble," Pique told El Mundo Deportivo.

"We know it will be difficult, we have done it just once before in our history. But now we can do it again.

"The situation is very good in the league as we are eight points clear. We are also in the final of the Copa, and the Champions League semifinals, but still there are many important games that we have to play for the titles.

"But I have great confidence in the team. We are very confident of winning the treble. Now we have options to do so and must aspire to that."

Pique will be in in "a peace of mind" as well to play his role like Messi.

He has surely regained his form after admitting publicly that he is dating Shakira recently. He is really enjoying life, at least for now.

So who will prevail on Sunday? El Loco feels the most Barca will get is a draw.

Don't miss this blockbuster.

Adios!

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