Contesting a place in the Europa League last 16, Primeira Liga leaders Porto and Serie A side Lazio meet in the competition’s playoff round on Thursday.
The teams convene at Estadio do Dragao for the first leg, after the hosts dropped down from the Champions League and their visitors came through the group phase as runners-up.
Though they have dominated domestically this season, after missing out on the title last year, Porto failed to make it five consecutive qualifications from the Champions League group stage in December – ending up with just five points in a challenging Group B.
Even so, the Dragons were still in a strong position to finish second behind runaway leaders Liverpool going into their final fixture, but a 3-1 reverse at home to Atletico Madrid ultimately saw the Spanish champions go through at their expense.
Nevertheless, the Portuguese club return to a competition in which they enjoy a rich history, having also won its direct predecessor, the UEFA Cup, during the golden era of Jose Mourinho’s reign. In fact, Porto actually beat Lazio in the semis of their victorious campaign of 2003; winning 4-1 in the home leg before a goalless draw in Rome sealed safe passage to the final, where they went on to beat a talented Celtic side.
Of course, they then lifted Europe’s top title the following year, but while such success has eluded them since, current coach Sergio Conceicao will oversee the club’s sixth participation in the Europa League’s knockout phase.
Competition winners in their debut campaign, under Andre Villas-Boas 11 years ago, Porto have lost three of their last-32 ties since, but can approach Thursday’s contest full of confidence due to some stunning league form.
A dramatic 2-2 draw with title rivals Sporting at the weekend keeps them six points clear at the top of the Primeira Liga table, having previously won 11 games on the bounce – scoring 31 times and keeping five clean sheets since their European defeat to Atleti.
Now in charge of another of his former sides, ex-Lazio star Conceicao played a part in the Rome club’s most successful spell of recent times; following up Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1999 by clinching the domestic double the following season.
Now, two decades on, he takes on the current Biancocelesti with a squad containing son Francisco Conceicao under his command, and will be plotting his former employer’s downfall.