For more than an hour, there was hope among the Swiss fans at St. Jakob-Park. Derlis Gonzalez’s early goal had put FC Basel up 1-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 draw against FC Porto, and the possibility of taking a one-goal advantage on the return trip to Portugal in March was a real possibility. But Basel held less than 40 percent of the possession throughout the match, and the goal by Gonzalez would prove to be the only opportunity the Swiss side managed throughout the full 90.
They seemed content to sit back and try to protect the lead — and for more than a half hour after the intermission, Basel was succeeding in their mission. Two disallowed Porto goals made it seem almost preordained that Basel would win. Then Walter Samuel conceded a penalty with a handball in the box, and Danilo coolly used his right foot to put a low blast past Tomas Vaclik into the corner of the net for the equalizer and the all-too-crucial away goal.
It was sweet justice for a concerted attacking effort by the visitors. A revolving door of attacking options cycled in and out for Porto, which generated 15 scoring chances, put seven shots on target, and held the ball for 63 percent of the match. Basel was increasingly dependent on tackles and fouls to slow the Portuguese powerhouse, and Danilo’s goal was the culmination of a concentrated focus on challenging Vaclik and the Basel defense.
Returning home for the second leg, Porto is in great shape. While they’re still in a fight with Benfica for primacy atop the Portuguese table, they won’t have to expend too much energy to reach the quarterfinals. Danilo’s late penalty was ultimately the difference between needing a two-goal victory and merely needing to secure a scoreless draw to send them through.
The first leg was marred with overly physical play, leading to 34 fouls and nine yellow cards. It will certainly be something to watch for in the second leg in Porto, as the hosts will be looking to preserve the present advantage and the visitors will be pressing to get an away goal of their own. A red card could potentially swing this match one way or another.
But it is likely that Porto is going to run away with this match and return to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. Jackson Martinez and Yacine Brahimi are both among top 10 scorers this season in the Champions League, and players like Ricardo Quaresma add an extra dimension to one of the most deceivingly dangerous offenses in Europe. After all, they scored as many goals as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the group stage and have the best goal differential domestically.
Come March 10, Porto won’t need a late penalty to secure their passage to the next round. Look for Martinez and Brahimi to each add to their goal tallies, and the Portuguese side to return to the final eight after six years away. It could get ugly quickly on the Atlantic coast at the Estadio do Dragão as the home crowd celebrates a 4-2 Porto aggregate victory.