LONDON: FC Porto’s defense of the Europa League is hanging by a thread with history weighing heavily against the Portuguese team heading into the second leg of their last-32 match against Manchester City Wednesday.
After losing 2-1 at home in last week’s first leg, Porto needs to beat an English side away for the first time in Europe to stay in the continent’s second-tier club competition.
City, though, has a stunning home record this season after winning all 12 of its Premier League matches at Etihad Stadium to help the team to the top of the English standings.
And with City manager Roberto Mancini desperate for any kind of silverware to justify the club’s heavy spending in recent years, Porto will not be taken lightly.
“After working so hard to win in Portugal, we can’t afford to waste it in the home leg,” City goalkeeper Joe Hart said. “We need to play like we did over there and not think about just trying for a draw or a 1-0 win. If we play our normal game, I think we’ll be OK.”
Manchester United, 2010 winner Atletico Madrid and fellow Spanish side Valencia are the competition’s other big names taking leads into home second legs Thursday, raising the prospect of some quality matchups in the last 16.
In a match between teams that have been European champions seven times between them, United beat Ajax 2-0 in the first leg in Amsterdam to put the English champions in control and ease the pain of dropping out of the Champions League at the group stage.
“Of course the Champions League is the most important trophy for everyone. It is the biggest trophy in Europe,” United winger Nani said. “But now we are here, we just think about this competition. The club has never won the trophy. Now we will try to do this.”
Any fears that England’s top two sides will not take the Europa League seriously have been dismissed, with both teams fielding strong lineups in the first legs.
“Sporting Lisbon, Ajax, Porto, Valencia and Manchester United – some of the biggest names in world football – are all in this to win it,” Hart said.” It’s a great competition and make no mistake, one we want to win.”
Atletico Madrid, which has a 3-1 lead over Lazio after the first leg in Italy, is unbeaten since Diego Simeone took charge and has a striker in Radamel Falcao who thrives in the Europa League.
By scoring twice against Lazio, the Colombia international made it 22 goals in his last 21 games in the competition, having helped fire Porto to the trophy last season.
Atletico will be without Brazilian playmaker Diego, who is out for a month with a right leg muscle injury.
“The coach is doing great work,” Atletico full back Juanfran Torres said. “We need to continue on the same way, with the same motivation.”
Valencia, which is third in the Spanish league, leads Stoke 1-0 while former European champions PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands has a 2-1 advantage over Turkish team Trabzonspor, one of the sides to drop down from the Champions League.
Steaua Bucharest needs to beat FC Twente away to keep alive its hopes of playing the final in its own stadium, having lost the first leg 1-0 in the Netherlands.