ALAN Pardew will return to his favourite footballing country after a draw which handed Newcastle United fans the chance to back their team in their thousands.
Pardew has strong links with the Iberian peninsula, having brought players over from Portugal in his previous managerial postings.
He could barely conceal his delight at his side’s upcoming Europa League quarter-final meeting with Benfica – a team he has always had a soft spot for.
It also provides an opportunity for United’s supporters to attend the away leg of the two-game tie – on Thursday, April 4 – which was virtually impossible in the previous round against Anzhi Makhachkala given Russia’s stringent Visa conditions.
Pardew said: “They (Benfica) are a team I’ve always loved so I’m looking really forward to going.
“I don’t know why I always had a feeling for them.
“Maybe it was the Manchester United game (in the 1968 European Cup final) and George Best, it was a bit before my time, but all the flashbacks.
“I love Portugal. I signed two players from the country, Jose Fonte, who plays for Southampton for example.
“I have good contacts out there, particularly in Lisbon. It’s a city I know well and a club I know well.”
Newcastle visit Portugal first, hosting the SuperLiga giants in the return on April 11 and were kept apart from the two other English sides still in the competition, Chelsea and Tottenham, in yesterday’s draw – made by former United striker Patrick Kluivert.
Should all three Premier League clubs progress, an all-English semi-final will follow for two of them.
Chelsea’s Europa League opponents Rubin Kazan insist they want to play at their home stadium instead of Moscow.
Rubin, in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, is the furthest east of any European club in the competition but the club played their last-16 home match against Levante at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium due to problems with the pitch.
A decision on where to play the Chelsea game on April 11 will be taken after a Uefa pitch inspection next week.
The game is expected to be in Moscow, which would mean a shorter journey – though still a significant one – for Rafael Benitez’s team ahead of a possible FA Cup semi-final three days later.
Tottenham were paired with Swiss side FC Basel, who scraped into the quarter-finals after Russian side Zenit St Petersburg missed a late penalty against the 10-man Swiss side.
Benfica came into the Europa League knock-out stages after finishing third in a Champions League group including Celtic and Barcelona, achieving a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp. They won through to the last eight by beating Bordeaux – United’s group opponents – home and away.
Benfica director Rui Costa said the Portuguese team would respect Newcastle. He added: “I felt all the teams wanted to avoid us and that is a sign of respect for what we have been doing and shows our credibility in European football.
““Newcastle deserve all our respect but we trust in ourselves. We will give it our best to go through.”
Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid were kept apart in yesterday Champions League quarter-final draw.
Barcelona will face David Beckham and big-spending Paris-Saint Germain, while Jose Mourinho’s side will take on Turkish outfit Galatasaray.
EUROPA LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS:
Chelsea v Rubin Kazan
Tottenham v Basle
Fenerbahce v Lazio
Benfica v Newcastle
First-leg ties to be played on April 4, second legs to be played on April 11.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS:
Malaga v Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid v Galatasaray
Paris St Germain v Barcelona
Bayern Munich v Juventus
First-leg ties to be played on April 2 and 3, second legs to be played on April 9 and 10.