Such is the importance of the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League that players can often freeze on the big occasion, but after scoring at the same stage for the second successive season a delighted Rui Costa proved he still has the class to perform at the highest level.
Last season the Portuguese playmaker scored the first goal of SL Benfica's 3-0 home win against FK Austria Wien, a result that took the Eagles through to the group stage. The veteran midfielder was at it again on Tuesday night, going one better with two spectacular goals that secured a potentially vital 2-1 first-leg triumph against FC København in Lisbon.
The 35-year-old has not lost the skills that persuaded ACF Fiorentina and AC Milan to engage his considerable talents and, despite only recently returning from the injuries that plagued him last term, he is happy to assume the responsibilty of leading Benfica to the promised land of the group stage for the third time in as many years.
"It was a good game for me because I scored two goals," said the former Portuguese international. "It wasn't a bad match at all. We were facing a strong side who were physically one step ahead. We must defend this result in the second leg by attacking from the start. I'm happy with all the things I did tonight and when I scored the first goal it took me back to what happened last season against Austria Wien, although I asked God to prevent me from getting injured again, which is what happened in that game."
Benfica coach Fernando Santos was also delighted with the veteran's contribution. "He is the most experienced player out there and he is used to these kinds of battles," he said. "He never loses his cool because he knows exactly what is needed in every moment of the game. He was very important for us tonight." Rui Costa's genius also earned praise from København coach Ståle Solbakken. "I think he is even too clever for his own team-mates," Solbakken said.
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