It's been a pretty decent week for Portugal and Spain, in matters non-fiscal at least. The Iberian Peninsula might be teetering on the brink of monetary oblivion but its soccer teams are in a rich vein of form in both of Europe's club competitions.
After Barcelona and Real Madrid had all but secured their places in a Champions League semifinal against each other with resounding triumphs earlier in the week, Villarreal, Benfica and Porto all took a bold step toward a possible all-Iberian last four in the Europa League.
Villarreal, which thrashed Dutch league leader FC Twente 5-1, will likely meet Porto in the semifinals after the freshly crowned Portuguese champion crushed Spartak Moscow by the same margin. "We still have the return leg but we have taken a big step forward," said Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido. "There is still another game in which we will clearly be favorite, but it still has to be played," he added, echoing a sentiment reverberating around the peninsula.
Benfica added to a punishing evening for the Eredivisie by slotting four past PSV Eindhoven, with the Dutch giant pulling one back late on to give it a glimmer of hope for the return leg. Sporting Braga- whose European campaign started with a first appearance in the Champions League group stage and has led it to a first-ever European quarterfinal- still has some work to do after a 1-1 tie with Dynamo Kiev. But Braga will have home field advantage and Andriy Schevkenko's absence through suspension working in its favor next week.
For Villarreal, a Champions League semifinalist in 2006, the Europa League represents a real chance to deliver a first piece of significant silverware to a club that, incredibly, has only spent a little over 10 years in Spain's Primera División. "It's the only thing we can win, we have to go for it," said World Cup winner Joan Capdevila. "I really want to win something with Villarreal, although nothing is easy in Europe."
Winning the Europa League would certainly be a great achievement for a team that plays in a town whose population would only fill its stadium twice. But on the domestic front Villarreal has important business afoot: a trip to Mestalla on Sunday for a Valencia region derby. Villarreal sits in fourth place, three points behind Valencia and nine ahead of its nearest challenger for the a place at Europe's top table next season, Athletic Bilbao.
With The Lions to be thrown to Cristiano et al on Saturday, any number of points Villarreal can escape Mestalla with will likely widen that gap further.