As Portugal's sole representative in the Champions League, FC Porto were trying to successfully negotiate their way into the competition's quarter-finals stage for the fifth time, thus cementing their place as the country's leading force in Europe (second-best Benfica only managing to achieve it twice since the inception of the Champions League).

Without captain Jackson Martínez, recently injured against Braga, and Óliver Torres only fit for the bench, there were some questions marks about the Dragons' ability to beat a side that both Real Madrid and Liverpool had found to be tricky. As it turns out, Julen Lopetegui's charges put in the performance of the season so far and will have certainly put some of their names on the radar of bigger European teams. 

 

The unstoppable force from Cameroon

Vincent Aboubakar was brought in at the beginning of the season both to provide cover for Jackson Martínez and give him the opportunity to slowly learn the ropes in order to take the Colombian striker's place when he eventually moves away to greener pastures. Even though his goals per minute ratio was certainly impressive, the Cameronian hadn't played that much this season and there were some question marks here about whether he would be able to find his stride in such a lofty environment.

Aboubakar was indeed fundamental to the night's outcome, and he proved as much right from the start. With FC Basel seemingly willing to press from the front - their 4x2x3x1 fitted perfectly into FC Porto's 4x3x3 - FC Porto's centre-backs were forced to resort several times to long balls and the striker did not disappoint, effectively linking up play with his team-mates. The 47 passes he received throughout the match painted the perfect picture. 

As has often been the case, for all their ball possession FC Porto actually looked more dangerous on the counterpressing - i.e. when they won the ball immediately after giving it away. The first goal, on 14 minutes, was the perfect example as Casemiro made a well-timed tackle and then played a probing pass into Cristian Tello, who ended up being fouled. Brahimi's expertly taken free kick was the first of four delightful goals.

 

Solid improvements across the board

FC Porto had been looking better over the past few weeks and the wins against Sporting and Braga certainly didn't hurt matters, but there remained a few doubts about the team's ability whenever the going got tougher. Given how the team had struggled to create many chance against Basel and that a 1-1 first-leg outcome was a tricky scoreline, both teams' approach was something of a mystery. Basel's initial attempt at pressing high up quickly fizzled out, but FC Porto consolidated all the marginal gains from the past weeks. 

There were two things in particular that made a significant difference. On the one hand, both Evandro and Herrera were much more willing to penetrate enemy lines and drag their direct markers out of position, thus creating confusion about which Basel player should be marking whom. This had the knock-on effect of putting more FC Porto players near the ball when it was given away and consequently allowing the Dragons to exert greater control over the match, which has not always been the case.

On the other hand, both Tello and Brahimi - for all their attacking forays - were willing to track back, unlike what has often happened this season, preventing Basel from hitting the wings, particularly on the break. All of this compounded Basel's misery and stopped them in their tracks as the Swiss side were never able to find their groove and, as time went on, started subsiding.

 

Dragons discover central virtue

A 1-0 scoreline was good, but it was not exactly an insurance policy, since a goal from Basel would level things up. As it were, Brahimi made another one of his darting runs down the left (which had already brought him a few bruises during the first half) and slid the ball to Herrera, who had no trouble dispatching the ball into Vaclík's far corner. Whatever doubts remained were quickly and surely disappearing.

However, perhaps the most important point to take from this match is FC Porto's change of tack as far as the attacking approach is concerned. Unlike what happened against Braga and Sporting, for instance, today there were virtually no aimless crosses thrown into the box, despite Aboubakar's physical presence. 

In fact, the chances created from open play throughout the match spoke for themselves and showed the pattern to exhaustion: Initiate attacks down the wings to attract the opponents there and then find the pockets of space in the middle. This time around, there were even midfielders supporting those runs, with the rest of the players close by just in case. 

In the end, Casemiro and Aboubakar would score another two gems, the Brazilian midfielder with a piledriver from 30 yards out and the Cameronian striker with a fine solo run that made for possibly the goal of the evening. However, the most impressive aspect of tonight was certainly FC Porto's ability to leave their indelible mark on what will certainly be remembered as one of the club's magical nights in the Champions League. A fifth presence in the competition's quarter-finals (in the modern Champions League format) was guaranteed and the display that led to it will certainly have supporters gagging for what's to come against Europe's stronger sides.

By Vasco Mota Pereira, at the Estádio do Dragão

 

Match reaction

After the match PortuGOAL went with the rest of the local and international press to the post-match conference and asked each coach a question (Note: for technical reasons (no voice recorder!) the following are paraphrased responses).

PortuGOAL: FC Porto were today less inclined to play down the wings and cross the ball incessantly into the penalty box, as so often is the case. Was it a specific strategy for this match or just the natural development of the match?

Lopetegui: "We have to address the challenges offered by opposing teams and try to find where the vacant spaces are - sometimes it's outside their lines, sometimes it's between those lines. We have to make the right decisions. If we can't find the space, we need to create them. I think we still played a bit down the wings, but we had less depth due to Danilo's absence on the right. The team has to find solutions and alternatives and they did just that. Basel are a team that want the ball, that want to attack, which is not always the case. We must be able to interpret and solve those situations."

PortuGOAL: Basel have shown an extremely well-drilled tactical blueprint, one that relies on ball possession and heavy pressing from the front, something the team seemed to try to do during the first 10 minutes of this match. Did the team drop back on purpose for strategic reasons or was it acknowledgment of FC Porto's individual and collective superiority?

Paulo Sousa: "It was that acknowledgment and our inability to have the ball because FC Porto robbed us of the space and time for it, to breathe and recover our energies. FC Porto's intense pressure didn't allow us to have the necessary time to play our preferred short-passing game, to recover and then exert our very own pressure. It was an acknowledgement of the huge gap in terms of the players' individual skills."

 

Other reaction:

Porto coach Lopetegui: "This was a last-16 Champions League match. We have to congratulate ourselves on the display against a tough team. I'm very happy and proud of my players. We attacked well and defended well, always trying to maintain possession of the ball. We played a great game. I dedicate the win to Danilo and to the Porto fans." 

Porto centre-back Marcano: "We were missing some important players but you didn't notice because the replacements played very well. We're very happy. We began by having to knock out Lille to qualify, and match by match we have played a great competition. Now whoever comes next we will try to win. It's going to be a great rival for sure, because there are only eight teams left. Was I shaken by the Danilo incident? Yes because it happened close to me and it was an ugly clash, but at half time we were told he was okay."

Porto midfielder Evandro: "It was a very special night for FC Porto and I believe I played my part. It was a great exhibition. In the last three important games we've had this month the players have responded well. The players that have come in to replace the injured ones have done well and not let our level drop, which shows the club's signings have been well managed. This is FC Porto. I believe we can go even further in the competition. We are ambitious and confident. Now we're in the quarter-finals, the target is to get through to the next round." 

Porto winger Cristian Tello: "I don't believe there are teams we want to avoid in the next round. Porto have the ability to take on any team. We are at a level that allows us to aspire to the maximum in this competition. We're not content just to reach the quarter-finals - we're going to try and reach the semis."

Porto midfielder Brahimi: "The most important thing was to get the victory and qualify for the quarter-finals. We want to do something special in the Champions League and we have enormous ambition. We are in a great moment, but now it's time to focus on the Liga, because that's also a competition that we'll be fighting for until the end."

Porto winger Quaresma: "It was a perfect night. Unfortunately Danilo had that bad moment, but he's okay and we dedicate the victory to him. Jackson is a very important player for FC Porto but in this squad there are players who are waiting for their opportunity and Aboubakar gave a good response by playing great."

 

Overall Rating (2)

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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    Well done to Porto for finishing off the job to reach the quarters. Our Liga's coefficient has taken a battering this season in Europe so it's good the Liga has at least one team in a European quarter final. I didn't see the match last night but I saw the first leg and from what i saw there i predicted a big victory like this for Porto in the second leg. Basel were very poor at home, could hardly hold on to the ball at all and were lucky to scrape a home draw. After seeing that game I really was amazed how Liverpool finished behind the Swiss team in the group. In short Basel was as good a draw as any team could hope to get in the CL knock out rounds.

    I don't want to take anything away from Porto and their efforts in reaching the quarters, but it's fair to say that they've had the luck of the draw in the CL so far. For the normal standards of the CL it was a fairly easy group to get out of, the most favorable group for all of the seeded teams, followed by the weakest possible opponent in the round of 16. It's fair to say that they haven't really been properly tested yet in the CL, yet are in the quarters. In the quarters that is surely going to change! Nevertheless, they've still done well to beat the teams they were drawn with and congrats to them for representing our Liga in Europe this season.

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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    @Danny: the article was referring to the period since the "European Champions Cup" has become known as the "Champions League" (from the mid 90s onwards). It's still the same competition though of course, with the winners gaining the title of "European Champions". But even still the statistic in the article is incorrect, Benfica have in fact reached the quarter finals 3 times since it became known as the Champions League (1995, 2005 and 2012). In the whole history of this competition, Benfica have reached the final 7 times and have reached as far as the quarter finals 16 times!

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  • Guest - NJ/USA/SLB

    Outstanding job by Porto. They looked impressive against a good squad. This team should continue to get better as the players and manager get acclimated.
    Hopefully they'll be able to carry the Portuguese torch further.

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  • Guest - Andrew

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    It's funny when Basel play English teams off the park and play well against Real Madrid in the group stage, everyone says they're very underrated and to be feared by anyone they play, dark horses, brilliant team etc. Then when they come up against FC Porto, and are absolutely hammered and made to look ordinary, the same fans that drooled over them a few months ago now say "it's only Basel".

    Well done Porto. Excellent over the two legs, and thoroughly deserved to progress. Basel's sole aim was to break our players' legs rather than to pick up a result and progress. Horrible team. How Walter Samuel almost lasted 180 minutes over the two legs is beyond me.

    from Belfast, UK
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  • Guest - Steve/NewBeige

    I agree w/ Andrew 100%. Completely dominating game by FCP. You can already hear the undertones of taking credit away from FCP b/c of a weak "Basel". Andre in particular could not hide his double edged complement. FCP aren't lucky to have made it to the final 8, they have played great futebol and haven't lost a game. Lets see how the Portuguese champions do this week at home against a team that hasn't made any name for itself this year in Europe.

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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    @Steve/New Beige: I haven't seen any comments from you in a long while. None at all for all of last season, I wonder why? I'll leave it there lol! If you read my post again you will see that I congratulated Porto, genuinely, they represent our Liga and it's good they are doing well in Europe this year because our teams in general have been poor.

    I didn't say they were "lucky" to be in the quarters, they beat their opponents so deserve to be there. I just said they got favorable draws in both their CL group and also with their opponents in the round of 16. I really don't think this can be argued against. Let's put it another way, if it were my club who only had to beat Shakhtar, Bilbao and Basel to reach the quarters of the CL, I would certainly admit that we got the luck of the draw. Because normally you have to beat stronger teams than this to reach the latter stages of this competition. But like I said I'm not taking anything away from Porto, you can only play who's in front of you and they have done well.

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  • Hi Andre. I would love to write more often whether my team play well or not. All my FCP does is defeat who they are drawn against....what else can they do? What will it take to convince fans from rival clubs in Portugal to stop placing an asterisks next to a FCP victory? Can you honestly say with a straight face, that Benfica, after laying a huge egg in european play, would be in the final 8 of the champions had they drawn the same teams?? Not likely!

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  • Guest - SupremoGino

    Congrats to Porto.

    With Benfica's dismal showing in Europe this season, I haven't been watching many games. Every team has their ups and downs anyway and if a bad Benfica season is winning the campeonato.. then so be it. I only saw the highlights but those goals were extraordinary.. and I hope Porto goes as far as possible. Even if they can only field teams with brazilians and columbians though it hurts to see what our league has become. As Andre mentioned we desperately need those co-efficient points.. on another note. I must wonder how Shalke feels getting destroyed by one CR7.

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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    @Steve: yes I agree a team can only play who's in front of them, and yes it's good to stick by one's team through thick and through thin, not only when they're winning. Regarding your question whether I think Benfica would be in the quarters if they played the same opponents as Porto? Personally yes i do think they would have been, as they are clearly stronger than all those teams, as Porto are, but we will never know will we?

    I can say the same thing conversely though, would Porto have qualified from Benfica's group? Again we will never know. I think the only thing that's clear is that Benfica's group opponents were stronger than Porto's overall. Leverkusen are stronger than Shakhtar (got hammered 7-0 by Bayern last night, I saw the extended highlights and Bayern could easily have scored 10 or even more), Monaco are stronger than Bilbao (they actually lost to BATE!!!) and well Zenit and BATE are simply light years apart in terms of quality, aren't they? So it's all just "ifs" and "buts "and opinions, but this is what makes football discussion interesting, right? We've all got an opinion!

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  • Agreed Andre.....Benfica had the tougher group. I would like to think that any team that makes it to the Champion's from Portugal is obligated no matter what the opponents, to finish better than dead last in the group stage. Will a win in the quarters be enough to silence the doubters? For the sake of the league coeffcient lets put club biases aside and get behind this team.

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