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Pep and Lopetegui

Reunion for longstanding friends

It’s not that long since Pep Guardiola and Julen Lopetegui, the opposing coaches in Wednesday’s Porto-Bayern clash, last met up. Guardiola travelled to Madrid in the middle of March to watch the Champions League Round of 16 tie between Atlético Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. He sat next to FC Porto coach Lopetegui in the stands at the Estadio Vicente Calderon. “He’s a friend,” as Guardiola revealed at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday. The duo are now on opposite sides for the quarter-final showdown.

“We’re looking forward to this game,” reported Guardiola who played at Barcelona with Lopetegui from 1994 to 1997. Guardiola was the playmaker and Lopetegui the number two keeper. The two of them have kept in touch over the years. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Pep and I really rate him,” said the Porto coach, “I think he’s one of the best coaches in the history of football.”

Connections to Thiago and Bernat

A lot of praise – and Guardiola is happy to return it in kind. “He’s worked very hard and his team plays really good football.” The Spaniard said they could never have imagined as youngsters “being able to coach such great clubs in the Champions League quarter-finals.” The pair have gone their own individual ways. While Guardiola celebrated great success at club level, Lopetegui worked for the Spanish F.A.

FC Porto is his first club appointment as a coach. He took the Spain Under 19s (2012) and the Under 21s (2013) to the European title. When “La Rojita” played two years ago Thiago became a hero with the fans when he bagged a hat-trick in the final against Italy. Juan Bernat has also played under the current Porto coach (U-19 European Championships in 2012). Tonight sees a reunion but there will be no exchange of gifts.