Villarreal, Porto, Benfica on fire
It was an excellent night for the Iberian teams in the quarter-finals of the Europa League as Villarreal, Porto and Benfica all enjoyed impressive first-leg leads, while Braga secured an away goal at Dynamo Kiev.
Porto, who at the weekend claimed the Portuguese league title under coach Andre Villas Boas, hammered Spartak Moscow 5-1 at Estadio do Dragao as Falcao grabbed a hat-trick to take his tally in the competition to ten. The Colombia international opened the scoring after 38 minutes as he met a fine cross from Alvaro Pereira with an equally good header at the back post.
Team-mate Hulk, who has scored 21 goals in 23 league games for the newly-crowned Portuguese champions, rattled the crossbar with a free-kick on the hour mark, before Silvestre Varela did score a second on 65 minutes when volleying home from the edge of the box.
Maicon then saw a header deflected into his own net by Kirill Kombarov, but the Spartak star immediately made amends with a neat finish at the other end. Porto, though, responded as Falcao scored twice in the final minutes with a neat finish from a Cristian Rodriguez cross and a header from a free-kick.
Following in the footsteps of their Spanish colleagues Barcelona and Real Madrid, Villarreal secured what looks like an unassailable first-leg lead when defeating FC Twente 5-1 at El Madrigal. However, Villarreal defender Gonzalo Rodriguez suffered a suspected broken leg.
Carlos Marchena put Villarreal into the lead with a header from a Borja Valero corner after 22 minutes, while Valero doubled their lead two minutes before half-time when racing onto a perfectly weighted pass from Santi Cazorla to produce a neat finish across the goalkeeper. There was still time before the break for Nilmar to profit from a poor defensive header to nod home from close range.
Villarreal, currently fourth in La Liga, claimed a fourth goal through Italy forward Giuseppe Rossi as he curled home a lovely shot from the edge of the box for his ninth strike in the competition this season. The Italian then set up Nilmar for his second of the night as the Brazilian shifted his bodyweight and struck a fierce shot after 80 minutes, but FC Twente claimed a late consolation through Marc Janko.
Porto and Villarreal have been drawn to face each other in the semi-finals should they progress, so a meeting between the two exciting sides now looks an inevitability.
Benfica, who were deposed as Portuguese champions at the weekend, secured a 4-1 first-leg lead over PSV Eindhoven at Estadio da Luz.
Pablo Aimar struck after 37 minutes when latching onto a loose ball in the box and driving the ball home, and the Portuguese side claimed a second on the brink of half-time when Eduardo Salvio turned home a cross from Fabio Coentrao.
PSV's woes continued in the second half when Salvio claimed his second of the game after 52 minutes when jinking away from two men in the box and finishing past Andreas Isaksson into the far corner. PSV responded with 12 minutes remaining when Zakaria Labyad took advantage of a mistake from Benfica goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez, but the final word went to Benfica as Javier Saviola struck deep into injury time.
Braga secured a useful away goal as they drew 1-1 at Dynamo Kiev. Andrey Yarmolenko struck after only six minutes when heading home from a cross from Oleg Gusev, but Kiev's Ognjen Vukojevic gifted Braga an away goal when turning the ball into his own net following a corner from Hugo Viana.
Kiev continued to self-implode after the break when Andriy Shevchenko was dismissed for two yellow cards following his introduction as a half-time substitute.