SL Benfica goalkeeper Artur has warned the rest of Europe not to expect his team to sit back and admire their surroundings after reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2005/06.
The two-time European Champion Clubs' Cup winners have been absent from the business end of this tournament in recent years but forced their way back into the last eight with a 2-0 defeat of FC Zenit St Petersburg in Lisbon. Trailing 3-2 after the first leg in Russia, Benfica wiped out that deficit when Maxi Pereira struck in first-half added time, and the hosts sealed their advance thanks to substitute Nélson Oliveira's late goal on the break.
"We showed everyone that we deserved this qualification and we proved we have an excellent team," said Artur, who remained relatively untroubled despite Zenit turning up the pressure after the interval. "We have talent in our side and we've reached this stage of the competition because of our quality. If we're lucky with the draw and we manage to play good football like tonight, we can get past our next obstacle."
That would mean the Eagles reaching the last four of Europe's premier club competition for the only time in the UEFA Champions League era and the first since 1989/90, when they lost the final to AC Milan – a tantalising proposition for a team heavily criticised following their recent displays. Benfica's first-leg loss to Zenit kicked off a run of three defeats in four games, culminating in Friday's 3-2 reverse at the hands of Liga rivals FC Porto, but Artur believes they have now rediscovered their verve.
"Tactically, we played better tonight than in our last few matches and we were more intelligent," explained the keeper, signed from SC Braga last May. "We played quite narrowly and our players were always close to each other. The great teams are also the ones who know how to control games and defend their lead when they go ahead."
Like Artur, Axel Witsel came on board last summer and the midfielder underlined that he made the switch from R. Standard de Liège to enjoy occasions of this calibre. "Definitely – we knew it wouldn't be an easy match, but we were playing at home in front of our own fans and owed it to ourselves to win the game," said the Belgian international, whose quick thinking led to the opening goal.
"We started well with good possession and created lots of chances, and what was important was that we were able to score just before the break. I controlled the ball, took a shot and then the ball came back to me; I just gave it a back-heel and Maxi was there behind me to put it in the net.
"I’m happy with myself and the whole team because we're now in the quarter-finals. The start of the second half was tough for us, but after 15 or 20 minutes we got ourselves back into the game and things were more comfortable after that."
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