Sporting Clube de Portugal followed their victory at Middlesbrough FC in the UEFA Cup Round of 16 first leg by sliding to a surprise home defeat against FC Penafiel at the weekend.
Two second-half goals were enough to defeat Sporting's challenge and dent their hopes of landing the Portuguese SuperLiga title. The result left the side fourth, six points behind SL Benfica, but defender Mário Sérgio believes Sporting adverse league form will not affect their progress in the UEFA cup.
"We've had two straight defeats in the SuperLiga but these won't interfere with the game against Middlesbrough," the right-back said. "We are already halfway there. We all know how Middlesbrough play; they perform for each other and are a strong side, especially on the left wing."
Brazilian defender Anderson Polga could return from injury to counter this threat, although Custódio and Fábio Rochemback miss out through knee and thigh injuries respectively. Coach José Peseiro remains confident, however, saying: "Our reaction to bad results has been quite good, and the players will no longer think of the match against Penafiel. We want to win and we can do it without conceding."
But while Sporting's injury worries have been alleviated, Middlesbrough, who were without a Premiership fixture at the weekend, have seen their concerns grow. Needing to win by two clear goals at the Estádio José Alvalade to reach the quarter-finals, Middlesbrough have been denied the services of key striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who became the latest player to join a lengthy list of absentees when he was ruled out after suffering an injury in training.
"We've already been unlucky with injuries and now Jimmy has hurt his knee," defender Franck Queudrue said. "You can rely on him, he holds up the ball and it's important to always have a threat. We've got good players but it's difficult when you have to change the team all the time. We just need to deal with it."
'We can do it'
George Boateng, Mark Viduka, Ugo Ehiogu and Gaizka Mendieta are also out of the reckoning while Ray Parlour is struggling with a back injury, but manager Steve McClaren remains optimistic, saying: "Of course we can do it. There was enough evidence in the first leg to suggest we can score goals. But we need a few players to play better than they did and to defend better and with an almighty performance we can do it."
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