15 September 2014 20:50
Porto could be boosted by the return of defender Alex Sandro as they begin their UEFA Champions League campaign against BATE.
Julen Lopetegui’s men host the Belarusian outfit in what will be their 200th fixture in Europe’s premier club competition.
The hosts will be expected to claim a straightforward victory at Estadio do Dragao and confidence is likely to have been heightened by the return of Sandro, who has become a mainstay at left-back for the Portuguese club in recent seasons, to training.
Sandro had been out of action since the 2-0 victory over Lille in the second leg of the play-off round last month due to a thigh problem but, while his prospective comeback is good news for Lopetegui, Porto’s Spanish coach still has plenty of injury troubles to contend with ahead of the encounter.
Indeed, on-loan Barcelona forward Cristian Tello also has a thigh concern and is a doubt, while teenage midfielder Oliver Torres (shoulder) and attacker Goncalo Paciencia (knee) are set to miss out.
A clash with BATE represents a new frontier for Porto, who have never faced Alyaksandr Yermakovich’s men before.
Porto are favourites to win what appears to be an open Group H that also features Athletic Bilbao – making their first appearance in the tournament since 1998 – and Shakhtar Donetsk.
But they were eliminated from the competition at the same stage last season after failing to win any of their three home games and would be foolish to write off a BATE side that now has considerable experience of playing at the top level of continental football.
BATE have competed in the group stage of the Champions League in three of the last four campaigns, although the eastern Europeans have failed to qualify for the knockout rounds on each of those occasions.
Their finest moment in the Champions League came in 2012-13 when BATE overcame eventual winners Bayern Munich 3-1 at home to claim a famous victory.
Few will envisage BATE pulling off a similar upset in Portugal on Wednesday, especially after a qualifying campaign that saw them limp through ties with Skenderbeu and Debrecen before ensuring their place in the group stage with a 4-1 aggregate win over Slovan Bratislava.
However, BATE have lost just once so far in the Belarusian Premier League and, with 10-goal top scorer Vitali Rodionov in line to head the attack, have the firepower to possibly spring a surprise and bolster their seemingly slim hopes of progression from the group.