Euro draws favour Portuguese quartet

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The play-off round of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League witnessed fairytale endings for Braga and Sporting, with both teams overcoming the odds to go through.

Braga stunned half of Europe by conquering Sevilla with a 4-3 success in Andalusia (5-3 on aggregate), while the Lions went to Denmark to claim a 3-0 win that erased the shocking two-goal defeat suffered at home. As expected, Porto swept Racing Genk aside with a resounding 7-2 aggregate victory to ease into the next phase of the Europa League, but unfortunately Marítimo was unable to defeat BATE Borisov at home, bowing out before the group stages.

Now, it has to be said that none of the four teams that will play Continental football – Benfica, Braga, Porto and Sporting - has a reason to complain about the draws, but let’s break down the chances of each team.

Champions League

Group B: Lyon, Benfica, Schalke 04, Hapoel Tel-Aviv

Benfica will most likely be involved in a three-way fight for the qualifying places. French outfit Lyon were perhaps the “weakest” team from Pot One, but cash-rich Schalke 04 are one of the toughest teams from Pot Three and with Raul and potentially Klaas-Jan Huntelaar they’ll prove a tough bunch to beat. Had the Eagles been handed this group last season, they would have had good chances of finishing top, but considering their current goalkeeping problem and how imbalanced their squad currently is, the Portuguese champions will need to show more than they have so far domestically to deserve a shot at the Last 16.

Prediction: Third place and a bittersweet memory of their 2009/2010 campaign.

Group H: Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk, Braga, Partizan

Having already defeated Sevilla, Braga cannot help but fancy their chances of advancing through to the last 16 of the competition. Arsenal are the obvious favourites, but Shakhtar and Partizan can definitely be defeated, especially if the ‘Minho Warriors’ keep playing like they did in the play-off round. Braga will hope their underdog status can help them spring a surprise on their opponents, but the hostile environments in Serbia and Ukraine may be too much for them to handle. They should at least guarantee a place in the Europa League, but don’t bet against them advancing into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Prediction: Third place and rave reviews around Europe about their mature displays.

Europa League

Group C: Sporting, Lille, Levski Sofia, KAA Gent

The Lions are a big question mark in the Portugeezer’s book. Their formation, their starting XI and their tactical ideas aren’t settled yet and that is also why they’re currently stuttering. Regardless of their form, they should have no problems dealing with Levski and Gent, but Lille will provide a sterner test. With players like Landreau, Mavuba and Gervinho on their starting XI, the French outfit are a solid and will rival Sporting for the top spot. With Paulo Sérgio still shaping his team, it‘s tough to confidently predict his team will finish top, but they should have more than enough to qualify for the knock-out stages.

Prediction: Second place

Group L: FC Porto, Besiktas, CSKA Sofia, Rapid Vienna

The last time Porto were not in the Champions League, they won the UEFA Cup and the Dragons are once again one of the teams to beat in the competition. The draw dictated the return of former golden boy Ricardo Quaresma to Estádio do Dragão – even if just for one night – but that is actually the only interesting fact from the group. Considering the depth of their squad, Porto will be able to tinker without worrying too much about not finishing in the first place.

Prediction: First place and bring on the good teams...

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