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  • Europa: Quarterfinal Thursday


    ccs-54-140264008593_thumb.pngThe UEFA Champions League has given us an enthralling set of matches this week, with sky-high scorelines and enough drama to satisfy even the most ardent soap opera fan.

    But what of that other European club competition?

    The old UEFA Cup will always be the "also-ran" of football on the continent, as the big name teams and their big name players hog the spotlight. But the Europa is a damned fine competition -- far harder to handicap than the CL could ever be -- which gives it an air of "purity" that appeals to the soccer junkie.

    And like its bigger, more famous cousin, the Europa League is now on to its own Elite Eight.

    Let's have a look at the matchups.


    FC Porto v. Spartak Moscow

    The Russian side is fresh off laying the smackdown on Ajax in the Round of 16, prevailing 4-0 on aggregate. After a tentative first leg, Spartak found their groove in the return match, thoroughly dominating the Dutch side.

    They won't find this leg to be so easy, though.

    FC Porto comes into this tie having just dispatched Spartak's cross-town rival CSKA Moscow, and will look to make it two in a row against Moscow-based clubs.

    Porto are no strangers to these knockout stages, having famously won the UEFA Cup and Champions League back-to-back in the early part of the past decade. Of course, none of those players are still around, but sometimes just knowing that a club has recently pulled it off is good enough motivation for the current side.

    Benfica v. PSV Eindhoven

    Another Portuguese power that has seen better days, Benfica will have their hands full with a PSV side that will be looking to atone for just having lost their lead in the Eredivisie over the weekend (after topping the league for much of the season).

    Benfica squeaked into the quarterfinal by the slimmest of margins, edging out PSG by a single goal on aggregate (albeit after stuffing Stuttgart quite handily in the Round of 32).

    PSV went one better, also advancing on a one-goal aggregate lead, but doing so by defeating Scottish giants Rangers 1-0 over the two legs.

    This pairing looks like it'll be decided by a goal, perhaps two at most, if recent form is any indication.

    Villarreal v. FC Twente

    Villarreal are a team that can score in bunches, and did so in the previous round when they hit Bayer Leverkusen for five goal over the two legs. Led by American-turned-Italian Giuseppe Rossi, the Spanish side is currently in a hotly-contested slugfest with Valencia for the title of "best club in La Liga outside of those other two" (and looking quite well in doing so).

    FC Twente have spent the better part of the entire season chasing PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie, and should come into this first leg on a high after having finally surpassed Eindhoven over the weekend.

    Well that help or hinder the new Dutch table toppers in this crucial away leg? Only time will tell.

    Dynamo Kyiv v. Braga

    I can't say I've seen much of Dynamo Kyiv this season, but I did manage to catch their home leg against Manchester City, a match in which they made the richest team on Earth look very average.

    Kyiv face a Braga side that has done just enough to advance in every round thus far. Dynamo will want to channel fellow Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk by making a real impression in this tournament, and they'll have every opportunity against their Portuguese opponent.

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