The UEFA Futsal Cup finals are little more than a fortnight away and hosts Sporting Clube de Portugal are preparing for their last-four encounter with holders FC Barcelona and hoping to avenge their 5-1 loss at the same stage three years ago.
This time Sporting will have the backing of a sold-out Meo Arena in Lisbon, with the competition's first-ever plus-10,000 crowd expected to cheer on the Lions at the venue where SL Benfica took the 2010 title. The 28-year-old defender João Matos, part of Sporting's run to the 2011 final, their 2012 trip to Lleida and their sensational 1-0 elite round elimination of three-time winners Inter FS in November, tells UEFA.com what it all means to the club, and what the club means to him.
UEFA.com: What does getting to this stage mean to Sporting?
João Matos: Sporting are among the best four teams in Europe, and for the institution, for the club and for the Lions' family, that's a huge honour. Regardless of the result, we are one of the four best teams in Europe. It's especially important for Portuguese futsal that a Portuguese team is there – luckily it's Sporting.
UEFA.com: Talk us through the decisive 1-0 elite round win against Inter; and did you think you would do it?
Matos: We always remember what we've experienced on other occasions – for instance, the elite round defeat by Araz last season is a very fresh memory. The players themselves have a ritual to come together and focus and speak a bit before we leave for a match. We were certain of one thing: that if we defended well, we'd be close to achieving our objective.
Then, when you arrive at [Sporting's home ground] Odivelas and see that sea of people, and everyone's together – including the players and the technical staff – pushing in the same direction, it was very hard for Sporting to lose that game. Inter had very good chances, a lot of opportunities, but that day was destined to be ours.
UEFA.com: Will the atmosphere be even better at the Meo Arena?
Matos: We've never really been in a match where there were 10,500 spectators ... Maybe a national-team match, a semi-final or final of the EURO. At club level, there have been big crowds at finals, and even in Odivelas, but never close to 10,500. So you start thinking: when we're in the tunnel waiting to come out, we won't even have the opportunity to enjoy it because we have to play, we have to win, we have to fight and our attention will be on the match – so with much sadness
I won't be able to enjoy the atmosphere. But I think it will be crazy.
UEFA.com: What do you think of your semi-final opponents Barcelona?
Matos: We know the quality of their squad and the individual quality of each player. When we played them in Lleida [in the 2012 semi], maybe Barcelona didn't get a great impression of what Sporting are about. And that's what I regret most. We weren't good at all in that match. It wasn't fluid, there wasn't that unity that characterises us, we were easily beaten and Barcelona thought it was too easy.
Now it will be different. Our game is completely different, whereas Barcelona's is not that much different from what I've seen. They have been getting some results which they didn't want. Whether we can take advantage I don't know, but it can influence the players. It can almost become an obligation that they have to win.
UEFA.com: What will be the key to beating them?
Matos: Above all, and taking into account what I said about Inter, it will be won in defence.
If I don't let my direct opponent finish; if each of my team-mates intercepts balls, throws themselves in front of shots and slides to block a move as if his life depended on it, then certainly we will be closer to victory. And Barcelona, aside from all the quality they have, also have weak spots – many. Just like we do, just like Kairat and Dina. But we have to be the ones to force the error and play on those weaknesses.
UEFA.com: Are Sporting a better team now than when they lost to ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5 in the 2011 final in Almaty?
Matos: Sporting are stronger, more aware, more conscious of their potential. We're playing better and there's a mentality that wasn't there in 2011. In a competition like this, at the level we are at, every detail counts. The competitive mentality is one of them – having the mentality to overcome everything that might happen in 45 minutes or longer, subject to extra time.
What's more, the arena – and the way it will be, bursting at the seams – will be packed and completely behind us. You need to have a very strong mentality not to let your emotions take over and to stay focused on what you need to do and your role. But this is definitely a stronger Sporting team.
UEFA.com: You have been at Sporting your whole career – what does the club mean to you?
Matos: I've been at Sporting since 2001. I am, as they say, from this house. I like it when they say 'João Matos is from this house' – it means they love me and they see me as a lion who has great love for the club.
It's my ninth year as a senior at Sporting and if I ever have to leave this place, it will be really difficult. If you analyse it, I spend as much time here as at home. That's the reality. Because with the travelling, and the time spent before and after training and matches, it's a lot of hours. And I've felt the love of so many people for so long – to the point where my image is on show and people recognise me more – that I feel so happy and at home. It's really special here.
I say it very clearly: this is a family for me. I have fans, supporters, people from the [hardcore] fans who have become my friends and I have become their friend, and they're people crazy about football or crazy about the club, fanatics. And
I look at that fanaticism and that love for the club and think: "I'm the same as them."
I may not express it the same way because I'm a player, because I have to hold it in, but I'm the same. The love for the club is the same, the craziness is the same. I just can't express it the same way. I see Sporting as a family.
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