When the Champions League quarterfinal draw is made in Nyon later this month, pretty much everyone left in the tournament will be hoping to get matched up with Porto.
After all, the Portuguese side are without any truly world class players, and on paper shouldn't be able to get remotely close to lifting the trophy in Berlin in June. Sure, they may have won the tournament as recently as 2004, but José Mourinho has long since departed, and their comparatively meager finances mean that they shouldn't stand a chance against the likes of Real Madrid.
However, their breathtaking victory over Swiss champions Basel in the round of 16 showed that they can be a match for anyone when on form. Julen Lopetegui's side may have been pretty unconvincing in the first leg when they were held to a 1-1 draw at St. Jakob-Park, but they put four past Paulo Sousa's side in the home fixture on Tuesday to seal an emphatic 5-1 aggregate victory. Suddenly, they don't look so easy a quarterfinal draw, even for the genuine tournament contenders.
Most promisingly, their win against Basel wasn't simply the result of them feasting on a poor defence -- they managed to utterly dominate proceedings both with and without the ball.
"We were unable to execute a short passing game due to Porto's efficient pressing," assessed Basel manager Sousa on the final whistle, highlighting what was the most impressive aspect of Porto's performance. It's no surprise that the former long-term Spain youth team coach Lopetegui wants his teams to harass their opponents; rather more surprising is that Porto seem to have grasped the system so quickly. Their current coach only took over in the summer, having not previously been in charge of a club side for over a decade.
And yet, they were able to totally dictate the space against a Basel team usually so efficiently organised. After taking the first few minutes to sit deep and allow their visitors to play it across the back of the defence, Porto started to push higher up after the opening goal. Deprived of time on the ball, their visitors began to panic, and before long the game was out of sight.
Add Porto's skill without the ball to their counter-attacking threat with it (a handy by-product of playing a 4-3-3 with a couple of pacey wingers like Yacine Brahimi and Cristian Tello) and their danger from dead ball situations (two of their four goals at the Dragão on Tuesday were direct free-kicks) and it becomes clear that this is not a team to be taken lightly. What's more, they managed to score a hatful despite the absence of top scorer and attacking talisman Jackson Martínez, who looks to be sidelined for at least a couple of weeks through injury.
Of course, that isn't to say that we should start treating Porto as serious tournament contenders. They're a stronger side than Basel, so they were able to play a very high-pressing game. Doing so against better teams carries inherent risks; a momentary lapse in concentration could result in Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben or a whole host of top attackers finding the split second they need to put the ball into the back of the net.
However, what is undeniable is that Porto are proving themselves to be tactically and technically a very proficient team, buoyed by the unfettered optimism of youth. The average age of their team against Basel was less than 25, and several of their players have been tipped as stars of the future. Striker Vincent Aboubakar, 23, admirably filled the Martínez-shaped hole up front; Real Madrid loanee Casemiro, 23, not only proved a rock in the centre of midfield, but scored a spectacular free-kick for good measure; and Héctor Herrera, 24, netted a stunning curling effort as his stock continues to rise in European football.
Porto are exciting, aggressive and intelligent, and if there's anything their win over Basel demonstrated, it's that they're mature enough to still make a dent on the biggest stage. Sure, they're almost certainly not going to go on and win the Champions League, but anyone underestimating Lopetegui's side shouldn't be surprised if the Dragons come back to bite them.