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If SL Benfica were relieved to find themselves back in the UEFA Champions League after a two-season hiatus, one can only imagine how Pablo Aimar felt.
It was the Argentinian playmaker's first appearance in the competition for nearly six years and in the 2-0 defeat of Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC his performance earned him the Player Rater Top Player award. A losing finalist with Valencia CF in 2001, Aimar had been starved of a taste at Europe's top table since the Spanish club's 2-0 reverse against SV Werder Bremen in December 2004, but on Tuesday ran the show as Benfica put recent domestic difficulties behind them.
"We're starting well with our first win," Aimar told UEFA.com. "And
I felt good, and very hopeful as I've returned to play in such a beautiful competition." Indeed, the 30-year-old believes the tournament will inspire him to even greater heights having already starred in Benfica's Liga triumph last season.
"It's very motivating to play in such a big competition," Aimar said. "Especially because I'm playing for such a big club. So it's important to represent the club in the best manner possible."
All Aimar's performance lacked was a goal, as he was denied on more than one occasion by the excellent Vincent Enyeama. The former Real Zaragoza player is not hiding Benfica's ambition – the Portuguese champions mean business in Europe – with FC Schalke 04 and Olympique Lyonnais to come in Group B.
"We want to qualify as quickly as possible, of course," he said. "We're a good team, that has something in it to succeed in this group stage. I think we can win [the group], but there are still five games to go until we see what happens."
Though the Eagles' slow start to the season – losing three out of the first four league games, more defeats than in the whole of the last campaign – has been a shock, Aimar says confidence has not been affected. "We always feel a bit anxious before the game, it's normal," he said. "A lot of people are watching what we're going to do, and things don't always go well. It's important that we can enjoy this victory. Every win helps the team a lot."
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