Newcastle will be drawn against one of seven teams for the Europa League quarterfinal Friday, thanks to yesterday's walk-off goal by Papiss Cisse. Like the previous round, they will play a home and away tie against the team they are drawn against, which at this point in the competition may be one of the two other English teams remaining. The two legs will be played on April 4 & 11. Here are the seven teams in the pot, ordered by most preferable to least preferable, in my own twisted mind.
FC Basel advanced to the Round of 16 in the UCL last season in a campaign where they dominated league play. This season they're a surprising second, though they still have plenty of time to catch Grasshoppers Club Zurich. Based on what I've seen on Twitter over the last several hours, they're perhaps the least respected team in this group, but do not sleep on the front line of Alexander Frei and Marco Streller.
Benfica lead Primeira Liga by two points with 8 matches left. They're not going to be punting Europa, though: they don't play second-place Porto until May 12. So far, they've only conceded 14 goals in 22 matches. It's impressive, even if Bordeaux looked good trying to make a comeback yesterday. Boy, Portugal sure is close.
I'll do these two together, since you know them. They're jockeying with each other for Champs League positioning, sitting third and fourth respectively. Newcastle is done with both teams in league play, having defeated each by one goal at home and losing to each by a goal on the road. Newcastle would certainly be the underdog if drawn against either, but there are plenty of reasons to be perfectly okay with one of these matchups: (1) familiar opponent, (2) light travel, (3) plenty of media frenzy.
A third straight trip to the former USSR would be a very unlucky draw indeed. Rubin Kazan defeated Levante in the last round, scoring two goals in extra time to advance. Jose Salomon Rondon has scored five goals in the competition this year. They ousted defending champs Atletico Madrid earlier in the competition, and oh, did I mention the travel? No thanks.
If Newcastle are going to draw SS Lazio, now is the time to do it. Back in February, UEFA found Lazio supporters guilty of racist behavior, which is sort of like accosting a pig for playing in the mud. In any case, they ordered them to play their next two home European fixtures in front of an empty stadium. As of yesterday, they have fulfilled half of this requirement, so whichever team gets matched up with the Roman side will not have to deal with their vile fans during the match. (Lazio also play football. They are a very stout defensive team, and I think Newcastle would struggle to score against them.)
Speaking of empty stadiums, Fenerbahce supporters missed out on a home European match for the second time this season yesterday. The reason? After an incident involving fireworks and missiles (what else?) against Borussia Monchengladbach in December, Fener fans were told to stay home for the Yellow Canaries' February tie with BATE Borisov. They were undeterred, however, managing to parachute flares into the stadium and causing a delay. Now having served their second suspension, the rabid fanbase will no doubt be itching to create a raucous atmosphere when they next host a European opponent. Will UEFA's threat to ban the Turkish side from competition for a year deter them? (Like Lazio, Fenerbahce also play football on occasion. Should Newcastle draw them, they will have to deal with the two-pronged attack of Moussa Sow and Dirk Kuyt.)
The draw will take place at approximately 1140 GMT. Follow along with us as we comment on the proceedings live.