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Nic Ladds 14th Feb 2010 - 17:37

Everton to end their Portuguese curse?

Everton didn't have an easy passage through the group stages but have managed to make the Europa League first knock-out stage. Standing in their way to the next round are Sporting Lisbon who were runners up in the old UEFA Cup in 2005.

Everton (4/5) are in decent form in the league after a slow start and with recent wins over Chelsea and Manchester City, confidence will be high around Goodison Park. They lost 5-0 and 2-0 to Sporting's fellow Portuguese club Benfica in the group stage so David Moyes will hope they can do better here.

Sporting Lisbon (3/1) are having a pretty torrid time of things in the Portuguese Liga, they are fourth but sit a massive 21 points behind league leaders Benfica. Sporting are 50/1 to go all the way and win the tournament but I think they will be lucky to even get past this round as Everton look stronger all over the park.

Everton have enjoyed a big turnaround in form which has seen them lose just once in eleven matches, looking up the table and at a strong finish to the season. The 20/1 for them to win the tournament outright looks generous but there are a lot of big teams left, notably their Merseyside rivals Liverpool (11/2 outright).

Although Sporting have been disappointing in their league they managed to get through the group stage with just one defeat so they should not be totally written off - best to cover the double chance of Sporting and the draw at 19/20.

The home faithful will hope to see Louis Saha continue his good form that has earned him a new contract; he is 4/1 to get the first goal. Landon Donovan has been a real hit since signing on loan from LA Galaxy, he has adjusted to life in England impressively and is 15/2 to get the first goal or 9/4 anytime.

Sporting's key men up front are Liedson (13/2 first goal) and the ex-Premier League duo of Florent Sinama-Pongolle (7/1) and Helder Postiga (15/2).

If Sporting are to score I expect goals to come from elsewhere on the park as Sporting have some bright prospects in the middle of the field. Joao Moutinho and Simon Vukcevic have been linked with Europe's biggest clubs recently and at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively to score at any point, that's where my money will be going.

This is the first ever meeting between these two, the only Portuguese club Everton have played is Benfica.Sporting have a lot of experience playing teams from England, in fifteen matches they have won seven, drawn three and lost five.

The second leg of this tie will be on the 25th of February in Sporting's José Alvalade stadium. The eventual victor will be rewarded with a tough tie in the second knock-out round with either Atletico Madrid or Galatasaray lined up for them.

I think Everton will win this, and try their best to make the away tie as comfortable as possible by winning big. 3-0 is 11/1 but if you think Sporting can get a vital away goal then 3-1 is 14/1.



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