British trio walking Europa tightrope
British football risks having no representatives in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League as all three remaining sides go into Thursday's last 16 second leg matches with plenty of work to do.
Manchester City and Liverpool host Dynamo Kiev and Sporting Braga respectively with City trying to overhaul a 2-0 first leg deficit and Liverpool a 1-0 loss in Portugal. The third British side, Scottish champions Rangers, did a decent enough job in the first leg drawing 0-0 away at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was seething after the defeat in Kiev last week, clashing verbally with defender Micah Richards but the charismatic Italian insists that all is still to play for as the Abu Dhabi-financed club seek some silverware to reward Sheikh Mansour's £500 million investment.
"We have to play better and defend better than we did," said the 46-year-old, who as a player twice won the now defunct Cup Winners Cup. "Kiev are a good side and have the edge - they are the favourites to go through, but this match is far from over."
Dynamo, though, will go to Manchester weakened by the absence of influential striker Artem Milevskiy, who broke a hand in last weekend's 2-0 league win over Vorskla Poltava. However, Kiev's iconic striker Andriy Shevchenko - who scored in the first leg - will be present and keen to prove to English fans that he is not the player he seemed at Chelsea during a desperate spell there.
The 34-year-old admits that the match will be a tough one for him and his team-mates as they attempt to make it two Ukrainian sides in the last eight of European club competitions - Shakhtar Donetsk having reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals last week. "We have only played the first-half of this match," said Shevchenko, whose goal last week took his European tally to 67. "We can expect a very different Manchester City this time round and they will be wanting to show their fans they are a side to be reckoned with."
Reds in uphill task
Liverpool will fancy their chances of getting the result they need against their doughty Portuguese opponents, who don't travel very well but did have a respectable maiden campaign in the Champions League beating Arsenal 2-0 at home in the group stage. Nevertheless Liverpool's outstanding goalkeeper Pepe Reina is dearly hoping that the match will prove to be a memorable way of celebrating his 300th appearance for the English giants.
"I am really proud at this amount of games and not something I imagined," said the Spaniard, who is the fastest ever Liverpool goalkeeper to 100 clean sheets in 198 matches. "I trust myself and I knew I could be a good 'keeper but to play 300 games - I think I am really lucky," added the humble guardian, who set a club record of 11 successive clean sheets in 2005.
In contrast to their British counterparts Portuguese clubs are in the pink going into the matches as aside from Braga, both Porto and Benfica are also ahead. Porto host CSKA Moscow after a praiseworthy 1-0 win in Moscow and the runaway Portuguese league leaders will be warm favourites to reach the last eight while Benfica have a tougher task as they head to Paris to play Paris Saint Germain with a 2-1 lead.
However, the manner in which PSG faded last Sunday after holding a 2-0 lead to be held 2-2 by ten-man Montpellier suggests that Benfica may thwart Parisian hopes of a second European trophy to set aside that of the 1996 Cup Winners Cup. PSG's chances, though, of reaching the last eight are simple compared to those of Russian side Zenit St Petersburg as the 2008 UEFA Cup champions host Dutch champions Twente with a 3-0 deficit to overcome.