Paris Saint-Germain FC striker Pauleta can expect an emotional evening as he faces a Portuguese side for the first time since leaving his home country in 1996.
SL Benfica visit the French capital tonight looking to gain the initiative in their UEFA Cup Round of 16 tie, and Pauleta anticipates an unusually stirring occasion. "I'll be proud to play a Portuguese team, it'll be the first time," the 33-year-old said. "I never played in the first division in my own country. Because of the size of the Portuguese community in Paris, Benfica will almost feel like they are at home in both legs."
Playing at home is something Pauleta has done precious little of. 'O Ciclone dos Açores' (the Azores Anticyclone) starred in Portugal's second tier with GD Estoril-Praia in the 1995/96 campaign before heading to Spain and UD Salamanca; barring internationals, he has not been back. Still, he managed 47 goals in 88 national-team appearances - breaking Eusébio's record of 41 goals - before retiring from the fold after the 2006 FIFA World Cup. A hero in his native Azores, he remains the only player capped by Portugal without playing a top-flight game.
Having slipped out of first-team contention at PSG as new coach Paul Le Guen works to avoid relegation, Pauleta feared he would be denied the opportunity to meet Benfica. However, Le Guen has now confirmed that he will lead the line in Paris. Pauleta won the Spanish championship with RC Deportivo La Coruña (2000) and the French League Cup with FC Girondins de Bordeaux (2001), before joining PSG in 2003 to "lift more trophies". Two French Cups at the Parc des Princes seem a paltry return for a player with 128 goals in 230 Ligue 1 games to date.
Pauleta was modest about PSG's ambitions ahead of the Benfica first leg. "It is important for us to go through, but we are really focused on avoiding relegation." Despite his club occupying the drop zone in Ligue 1, though, the forward will be desperate to avoid seeing a possibly last chance of European glory slip away.
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