Two goals from Marko Pjaca and Dani Alves in the space of 141 seconds saw Juventus seize the upper hand in this last 16 tie in Portugal just under three weeks ago, establishing a lead that makes them firm favourites to reach the last eight for the 10th time in their history.
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This is Porto’s second appearance in the first knockout round in three seasons but the Portuguese champions have it all to do if they are to equal their quarter-final run of two years ago where they eliminated Basel 5-1 on aggregate before succumbing 7-4 to Bayern Munich.
As demonstrated by Barcelona’s extraordinary second-leg comeback against Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou however, anything can happen in this game even if the visitors would need to smash three significant historical barriers if they are to advance past the Bianconeri in Turin tonight.
The first would require making UCL history for just the third time ever: only twice in the Champions League has a side overturned a home first-leg defeat to win the tie. On both occasions the victorious side came back from just a one-goal deficit, Ajax against Panathinaikos in the 1995/96 semi-finals (0-1, 3-1) and Inter against Bayern Munich in the 2010/11 round of 16 (0-1, 3-2).
The second and third both involve Juve’s recent and historical record in the competition. Not only are the 2015 finalists unbeaten on home soil in 20 matches in UEFA competitions (11 wins, 9 draws), they have also reached the next round in every one of their last 36 European ties after winning the first leg away from home.
The Bianconeri had won 10 consecutive games in all competitions before a disappointing 1-1 draw with Udinese on 5 March, but Friday’s last-gasp 2-1 victory over Milan ensured that morale in the black and white camp could not be higher going into this evening. Anyone present at Juventus Stadium that night would understand why…
That result saw Allegri’s men consolidate their eight-point advantage at the top of Serie A, keeping them firmly in the hunt for three trophies, with a Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against Napoli still to come at the beginning of April.
Thirty-one home wins in a row in Serie A make a compelling case then for being in the hat for the draw in Nyon on Friday afternoon. A repeat of any of the results in the group stages - draws with Sevilla and Lyon and victory over Dinamo Zagreb - would be enough.
Porto also find themselves top of the tree in their own patch albeit with their rivals breathing down their necks. A 4-0 thrashing of Arouca - taking their goal tally to 11 in the past two games - restored the Dragons to the top of the Primeira Liga, one point clear of Benfica who have played a game fewer.
The top two are set to face off in Lisbon on 2 April. Perhaps more impressively, Nuno Espirito Santo’s charges have kept five clean sheets in a row in domestic competitions.
The two-time UCL winners have returned from Italy victorious on four occasions in the past, most recently stunning Roma 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico in the play-offs in August. The same result would see them knock out Juventus tonight.
Paulo Dybala netted his fifth goal in six outings on Friday and the Argentine will be hungry to continue his strong start to 2017 tonight.
The Argentine has found the net twice in his young Champions League career, kicking off Juve’s second-half comeback against Bayern at this stage last season before wrapping up the points from long range in Zagreb in Group H in September.
Gonzalo Higuain rarely goes more than three games without scoring having drawn blanks against Udinese and Milan in his past two Serie A appearances. Three in six for the number 9 in the UCL so far and 23 in all competitions.
Porto are hardly short on firepower themselves and will be hoping that January signing from Vitoria Guimaraes, Franciso Soares continues his eye-catching start to life in blue and white; the Brazilian forward has nine goals to his name in six league game. Rising star Andre Silva tops the club’s scoring charts with 15 strikes, four of which coming in the group stages.
If Gianluigi Buffon’s predictions are anything to go by, expect opposite number Iker Casillas to scoop the man of the match award, Gigi to produce a handful of good saves and Juventus to emerge victorious.
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