PORTO, Portugal (AP) — FC Porto and Malaga are at the top of their game as they head into their hotly anticipated Iberian duel on Tuesday in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Porto is on a 19-match unbeaten run in the Portuguese league and stands joint-top with Benfica with a 14-point lead. The two-time European champion is in the tournament's knockout round for the seventh time in 10 years.
Malaga, meanwhile, lies fourth in La Liga where it has racked up a five-game unbeaten streak. The Spanish club is unbeaten in its debut appearance in the top-tier European competition, finishing top of its group ahead of AC Milan as it profited from the experience of Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini.
"We're gearing up for what will be a big game. Everyone is looking forward to it," Porto coach Vitor Pereira said. "I'd even like to play in it myself." The Portuguese champion won all its home games in the tournament's group stage, conceding one defeat in six games to claim the runner-up spot behind Paris Saint-Germain.
Porto striker Jackson Martinez is hot property. Playing his first season in Europe, the Colombian is the top scorer in the Portuguese league with 20 goals - seven more than his nearest rival. He has made the most of the opportunities provided by Argentine playmaker Lucho Gonzalez and Portugal's Joao Moutinho, who marshal Porto's midfield. Ghanian midfielder Christian Atsu is also back after appearing at the African Cup of Nations and scored Porto's opening goal last weekend in a 2-0 win over Beira Mar.
James Rodriguez and Silvestre Varela are recovered from injuries and will probably be positioned on Porto's flanks, but Belgian midfielder Steven Defour is in doubt with a muscle strain. Malaga has lost only once in 12 games on the road in Europe — a defeat that came in Porto, against the northern Portuguese city's second club Boavista, in the UEFA Cup during the 2002-03 season.
Malaga midfielder Ignacio Camacho says his team is looking for a result at the Stadium of the Dragon that will put the club in good stead for the return leg next month in southern Spain, though he isn't expecting an easy ride.
"We're going there to win and we'll try to be faithful to our usual way of playing. Even if we don't win, we're hoping for a good result," Camacho said. "We came up against some big clubs in the group stage and came through it, and Porto is no bigger than Milan. They're favorites because of their record, but they'll have to prove themselves on the pitch."
Malaga beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Saturday in the latest sign that it has stayed strong despite the loss of some key players and a continuing wage dispute at the club. "It was very important for us to win in La Liga and keep fourth place, especially when attention is already turning to the Champions League game," Pellegrini said.