A day after Sporting Clube de Portugal's UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg at Athletic Club, the club's small-sided section take on hosts FC Barcelona in the last four of the UEFA Futsal Cup in Lleida.
Goalkeeper João Benedito hopes fans will stay in Spain for their encounter, 12 months on from losing to Italy's ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5 in the final and a decade after he played for the club in the first eight-team showpiece in Lisbon.
UEFA.com: Sporting's football team will have 2,000 fans supporting them at San Mamés in Bilbao on Thursday. Do you expect to have that kind of support in Lleida?
João Benedito: We're not going to have a lack of support, that's for sure. I hope the fans following the football team in Bilbao can also make a tour through Spain and support us against Barcelona and, who knows, see us through to the final.
UEFA.com: It's your third UEFA Futsal Cup final tournament. What are your expectations as last year, with no Spanish or Russian teams, Sporting seemed to be more favoured than now?
Benedito: We have to be very proud of all that Sporting have done in the last two years in this competition. Being in the finals is synonymous with quality, a job well done and a sign that we are being supported by a very strong, solid structure.
Regarding expectations, the four teams are very even. We were drawn against Barcelona in the semi-finals and I am going to play a great friend of mine, Fernandao, who played with me in Spain at Playas de Castellón [in 2006/07]. I hope that in the end the victory will be Sporting's and that we can go to the final.
UEFA.com: You are the only Sporting player to have featured in the club's run through the semi-finals of the first UEFA Futsal Cup in 2002. What are your memories of that?
Benedito: It was a unique week as we lived a whirlwind of emotions. At the time futsal in Portugal was not so well known and it was the first time that we became aware of what the Sporting supporters were really like because a lot of people showed up at the arena. We played against teams that were the highest standard of futsal worldwide. I remember seeing the other teams training and trying to learn as much as possible.
We gave everything we had and more. I particularly remember the emotional match against Roma that ended 5-5 [taking Sporting into the semis]. It was a great experience, another step in cementing futsal [in Portugal] and also a great boost for the sport at the club.
At the time our coach was Beto Aranha, who knew Playas de Castellón very well. They had a team from another planet, with Brazilian and Spanish internationals like Vander Carioca, Javi Sánchez, Javi Rodríguez [now at Barcelona] and the twin brothers Joan and Andreu. It was curious as Sánchez was then my sports director in Playas de Castellón, [Juan Carlos] Gascó, who was also playing and he became my goalkeeper colleague at Playas de Castellón. It was a fabulous week.
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