Porto: Injury-hit Bayern Munich head to Porto for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final, first leg minus a host of stars, but determined to boost their bid to reach a fourth straight European semi-final.
Pep Guardiola. Pic/AFP
Pep Guardiola's Bayern last failed to reach the last four in Europe in 2011 and having lifted the European title five times, the 2013 Champions League winners have won 16 of their 25 matches at this stage. But rarely have the star-studded Bavarian giants been so hamstrung by injuries. Left-back David Alaba, centre-back Medhi Benatia, midfielder Javi Martinez and right winger Arjen Robben are all missing.
To compound matters, left winger Franck Ribery and defensive midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger were ruled out on Monday with an ankle injury and 'flu respectively. Bayern have Spain veteran Xabi Alonso back after serving a one-match ban, while Germany defender Jerome Boateng and striker Claudio Pizarro are back after injury.
Even missing their top stars, Bayern still managed to dominate Eintracht Frankfurt in Saturday's 3-0 league win at Munich's Allianz Arena to keep them ten points clear in the Bundesliga. Robert Lewandowski scored twice to leave him with nine goals in his last eight league games and has taken over from Robben as the club's top scorer in all competitions. Guardiola has said there is no point Bayern ruing their misfortune while director of sport Matthias Sammer said the Germans' title hunger will carry them through as they chase the treble of European, cup and league titles.
'This team is hungry'
"There is a chance that this small, but high-quality group can develop a lot of strength and dynamic," said Sammer. "It's well known that this team is hungry." Bayern have won six of their last ten Champions League away matches including their 7-1 win at AS Roma in the group stage.
Even shorn of fleet-footed wingers Robben and Ribery, plus midfield general Schweinsteiger, Bayern can still name five World Cup winners at the Estadio do Dragao. "We know that we can rely on whichever team plays," confirmed Thomas Mueller. "It'll be a close match, I assume we won't win 5-0, but we must make sure we come home with a good result." Their punishing schedule of a game every three or four days is being seen as a positive in the Bayern camp.
"It's nothing to do with the team's substance, it's the most beautiful rhythm in the world," said Sammer. "The players would rather play games than train." Hosts FC Porto have their own share of injury woes with Colombia striker Jackson Martinez doubtful with a groin injury after scoring 26 goals in all competitions. Likewise, forward Christian Tello is missing having torn his right thigh before Porto's heavy league defeat to Estoril on April 6.
'Dreams and ambitions'
Their 3-1 win at Rio Ave on Saturday left Porto second in Portugal's top flight, three points behind leaders Benfica, as Ricardo Quaresma, Real Madrid-bound right-back Danilo and forward Hernani all netted. Porto are seeking a first semi-final appearance since the 2004 run to the final when they won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho.
"Playing the quarter-finals of a competition as big as this one is a reward for everyone and the only thing on our mind is dreams and ambitions", said Porto's Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui, a former team-mate of Guardiola at Barcelona. "There is nothing else to take into the game." The Portuguese club's last quarter-final appearance was in 2008/09 when they were knocked out by Manchester United. Their only two victories in six previous quarter-final appearances came in the seasons when they went on to be crowned European champions.