By Leo Linden
Perennial Portuguese contender FC Porto is trying to return to the European force it has been in the past. The club, one of Portugal’s “big three” along with Sporting Lisbon and Benfica, has built a rich history in Portugal and Europe since its inception in 1893. In its early years, the club was dominant, winning countless regional league titles. After these years of complete destruction, the club got off to an amazing start in the Primeira Liga, winning the competition in its debut season in 1934.
More success came during the rest of the 1930s for the club, but in the post-war years, Porto fell out of the Portugal’s elite group, winning the Primeira Liga just twice between 1940 and 1976. A changing of the guard occurred during that 1976 season, when Porto brought back Jose Maria Pedroto, who had previously been a player and coach at the club.
The success was almost immediate, as in just his second year in his second stint as manager, Pedroto guided Porto to the league title and kicked off an era of dominance Porto is still exercising today. Three championships in the 1980s were made even sweeter when the club won the European Cup – Now UEFA Champions League – for the first time in 1987, beating powerhouses Dynamo Kyiv in the semi-final and Bayern Munich in the final.
In the 1990s, the club rose to full power domestically, winning the Primeira Liga eight out of 10 times in the decade, including five in a row. However, the success did not translate to Europe, as Porto could not manage to get past the quarterfinals of the newly-rebranded Champions League.
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All that changed at the hands of one man: Jose Mourinho. After taking the reins in 2002, Mourinho, naturally, pulled all of the right strings. In 2003, With a squad of Portuguese talent led by Deco, Mourinho piloted Porto around bigger and richer clubs, defeating Manchester United and Lyon in the knockout stages of the Champions League before dismantling Monaco 3-0 in one of the most lopsided finals in recent history. At the time, the win seemed to reaffirm Porto’s status as one of Europe’s elite.
But all good things come to an end, and Mourinho left for Chelsea (for the first time) in 2004. It didn’t hurt the side’s domestic performance, as they won seven titles in eight years between 2006 and 2013 before slipping to third last year. The European success has been reduced, however. The club has stayed competitive in Europe by making the knockout stages of the UCL and winning the Europa League, but they haven’t reached the pinnacle again, this year could be different though.
The lack of parity in Portugal means the Champions League is Porto’s proving ground, making the competition that much more important to them. This year’s run f has been one to remember so far for Porto, as they have once again broken through the round of 16 and into the quarter-finals. They have yet to lose in the competition, winning four and drawing two in a group of Shakhtar Donetsk (who we wrote about just a couple weeks ago), Athletic Bilbao, and Bate Borisov. Their 14 points and first-place finish were rewarded with a very kind draw against Basel of Switzerland. Tuesday, they whipped up on Basel 4-0, completing a 5-1 aggregate victory to advance to reaching the quarters.
The second leg was undoubtedly one of Porto’s best games all year. The side thoroughly dominated Basel, scoring four screamers, each from outside of the box, including a world-class Casemiro free kick from over 30 yards out. Porto looked brilliant and at ease in the competition, which should scare the other sides.
The work is far from done for Porto however, who will almost certainly face their toughest competition of the season in the next round. Regardless of the
draw, though, you can expect the Portuguese side