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Wednesday, 26 March 2014 10:35

Preview: Portuguese Cup semi-finals

taca-de-portugal.jpgBraga, Rio Ave, Porto and Benfica aim for Jamor

The first legs of the Portuguese Cup semi-finals are played tonight, with Braga hosting Rio Ave at the Quarry, before the clássico at the Estádio do Dragão pits together FC Porto and Benfica.

Porto v Benfica (kick-off, 9 pm)

Tonight's encounter is the first instalment of a series of duals between the two fierce rivals up until the end of the season. As well as the two legs of the Portuguese Cup semi-final, the two sides will meet in the Taça da Liga (League Cup) semi-final and on the final day of the league season, both at the Dragão. And with the duo also both in contention in the Europa League, they could face off one or two more times if they meet in the final or semi-final in European play.

Although both sides are involved on four fronts, Benfica's 12-point advantage in the Liga over Porto means that realistically only the Eagles can aspire to capturing what would be an unprecedented four trophies in a single season.

Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has earned plaudits for the way he has rotated his squad this season, apparently learning from mistakes of the recent past. He again reiterated yesterday that "winning the Liga is the main priority" and with a tough trip to Braga coming up on the weekend, it is possible the coach will not select his strongest XI. Oscar Cardozo is expected to start, replacing either the in-form Rodrigo or Lima, while Rúben Amorim could in for Fejsa or Enzo Pérez.

Regardless of who he picks, Jorge Jesus was keen to point out that "the players remain super-motivated for all our matches."

Porto are boosted by the return of three key players, Ricardo Quaresma, Fernando and Danilo, who all missed Sunday's victory over Belenenses through suspension.

Josué has been dropped from the squad, suggesting new coach Luís Castro will continue to give a more prominent role to midfielders Steven Defour and Quintero than his predecessor Paulo Fonseca did. Both players have responded positively to their new opportunities, and Castro appears to be gradually forming a cohesive unit after the poor results and performances by Porto's high standards under Fonseca.

"We have been constructing our playing style and we want to impose our identity, have our eyes on the opposition net, and remain balanced and comfortable throughout the game," said the Porto coach. "We want to win, we are determined, but it is a 2-leg tie and we can't let our emotions get the better of us."

Braga v Rio Ave (kick-off, 7pm)

The other semi offers the possibility of revenge for Braga, after Rio Ave beat them in the semi-finals of the Taça da Liga last month. Much like their neighbours Porto, the Arsenalistas' season has fallen well short of expectations. However, coach Jorge Paixão does not see the tie as "the salvation of the season".

"This game is not the salvation of anything. The way it's being presented one would think we were in last place. If we play like I want us to we will win. Nothing will be decided tonight, but we want to build an advantage," he said.

Rio Ave's inconsistency in the Liga has contrasted sharply with superb form in the cup competitions. Despite making the final of the League Cup, the prestige of the Portuguese Cup means the Vila do Conde side are no less motivated to set up another final against either Benfica or Porto.

"Reaching the final of the Portuguese Cup would be unforgettable. Rio Ave have only got to Jamor once in our history, 30 years ago. We want to make history again," said central defender Marcelo.

And if a place in the showpiece match that brings the curtain down on the domestic season was not motivation enough, an important extra bonus awaits the winners of the tie - a place in next season's Europa League.

by Tom Kundert

Comments (1)
1 Wednesday, 26 March 2014 12:09
This Benfica squad should beat Porto's current form. The rotation of the squad has been very good, and everyone is putting in the effort. A draw here wouldn't be a bad thing fir Benfica if it comes with away goal.
That being said, I've felt this way before and came away disappointed. We'll see if this Porto squad has improved. With league seemingly out if reach, the Taca would be a very nice consolation prize.

I would say this is a must win for Braga. They've come back to the middle of the pack, so they really need a home won for the fans. Braga should be going hard after the Taca.

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