Juventus v Porto: Alex Sandro’s past meets his present with Champions League quarter-final place at stake

The Portuguese side mut try to overturn a 2-0 deficit at the Juventus Stadium to reach the quarter-finals, hoping that more of their own diamonds can sparkle on Europe's biggest stage, writes Ian Hawkey.

Juventus players celebrate a last-gasp win against AC Milan in their Serie A encounter at Juventus Stadium in Torino on March 10, 2017. Alessandro di Marco / EPA
Powered by automated translation

■ Juventus v Porto, Tuesday, 11.45pm, BeIN Sports

Within Juventus, it is regarded as a bit of a mystery that Alex Sandro, master of the left flank of the Italian champions, standout full-back in Serie A, remains an outsider for his national team. Alex Sandro, once again, has been left out Brazil’s squad for the forthcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers and, for all the quality his country have at left-back, the player is entitled to feel snubbed.

At Porto, they share Juve’s surprise that the 26-year-old defender has not added to the scant six caps he won five seasons ago. When Porto put a €26 million (Dh102m) price-tag on him 18 months ago, Alex Sandro’s international pedigree was assumed. Juventus, seeing his turn of speed, his precise crossing and his defensive discipline, made him the second most expensive defender they have ever hired. They were in an auction for his talents, with Manchester City showing eager interest.


Read more

■ Exclusive: Scout, settle, success, sell – how the Benfica model is flourishing


One of Alex Sandro’s trusty crosses has helped Juve close in on a place in the last eight of the Uefa Champions League at his former employer’s expense. He set up the second of Juve’s goals in the first leg of the last-16 tie that resumes on Tuesday in Turin, 2-0 up against a Porto who will be weakened by their lack of a first-choice left-back. The uncapped Brazilian Alex Telles is suspended thanks to the rush of blood that earned him two yellow cards in two minutes in the first half of Juve’s win in Portugal: Telles, reckless, put up a very poor argument that night that he is a worthy successor in Porto’s team to Alex Sandro.

Porto have come to pride themselves on their capacity to quickly and shrewdly compensate for the talented players, such as Alex Sandro, they sell at profit, generally to major clubs in wealthier leagues than their own. Their economic model depends on that. Porto scout well, and nurture players carefully.

Look around the Champions League, and Porto graduates are plentifully represented. From Radamel Falcao, hero of the Porto who won the Europa League in 2011 and now back to something like his best at Monaco, to the Real Madrid trio, Pepe, Danilo and James Rodriguez, the list of footballers Porto have moved on, for some giant fees, stretches long and wide.

Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi and Fernando came from South America to Porto to launch their careers in Europe; City were persuaded, in the summer of 2015, to pay close to €40m for Eliaquim Mangala, then of Porto. It is a sum they might now regard as too high for a defender they have since loaned out to Valencia; it represented a profit of more than €30m for the sellers.

Porto have retailed most successfully after their sporadic European successes, like the Champions League triumph, against the odds, under Jose Mourinho, of 2004, and the Europa League triumph of 2011. They have maintained an annual presence in the later stages of one European competition or another, but domestic titles have been harder to come by lately.

It is four years since the last of their 27 Portuguese championships – although they top the table right now – and the announcement, last autumn, from long-serving president Pinto da Costa, that the financial strains on the club mean Porto must target €100m in revenues from transfers – or savings on salaries – in 2017 has braced portistas, as the club's fans are known, for an even heavier than usual turnover of playing staff this summer.

There would certainly be a market for the likes of Danilo and Andre Silva, both members of the Portugal squad who won Euro 2016 last July, and for the Mexican midfielder Hector Herrera. As for the immediate ambition of Porto’s stars, Danilo suggested the comebacks witnessed elsewhere in the Champions League this month, notably by Barcelona, could inspire the away team to reverse their 2-0 deficit. “We’ve seen in many games that nothing is impossible,” he said.

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport