When the stirring sounds of the UEFA Champions League anthem swell up from the main stands across Europe this week, it will be a familiar sound to followers of FC Porto, SL Benfica and SC Braga.
All three Portuguese sides will be refreshed as they commence their campaigns, following the international break and a weekend free of league fixtures. In fact, champions Porto will have had 17 days since their last Liga game when they take the field at GNK Dinamo Zagreb's Stadion Maksimir on Tuesday, while Benfica and Braga most recently played on 2 September.
The trio will nonetheless be resuming without key players, after Porto's Hulk and Benfica's Axel Witsel joined FC Zenit St Petersburg before the Russian transfer deadline. The Lisbon giants and Braga had already been licking their wounds when the window closed for much of western Europe on 31 August. Jorge Jesus's team ceded Javi García to Manchester City FC and the Arsenalistas were stung when star striker Lima left northern Portugal – for Benfica.
There is no doubt that some readjustment will be required. Porto may find Hulk's replacement within, with James Rodríguez comfortable on the right side of attack and growing in confidence. The 21-year-old will travel to Croatia in fine fettle, having scored a superb free-kick for Colombia in their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying win against Chile.
For their part, Benfica must cover the loss of their first-choice central midfield for Wednesday's testing trip to Celtic FC, but still have a team rich in goalscoring power thanks to Óscar Cardozo, Eduardo Salvio and the aforementioned Lima. Meanwhile, Braga will retain the spirit that saw off Udinese Calcio on penalties in the play-off round, as well as the experience of Alan, Paulo César and Hugo Viana – as well as good insight into opponents CFR 1907 Cluj, with whom goalkeeper Beto won the Romanian title last season.
The casts may have changed, yet Portugal's UEFA Champions League protagonists will be ready when the curtain comes up.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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