After playing his part in SL Benfica reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2006, the Eagles' exciting young forward Nélson Oliveira says he has been "enriched" by the experience and that Benfica want to go "as far as possible".
Since August, Oliveira has participated in a FIFA U-20 World Cup final, made his Liga debut with Benfica and won a first senior international cap, but it was his UEFA Champions League bow that shot him into the limelight. When he was introduced as a substitute in the round of 16 second leg against FC Zenit St Petersburg on 6 March, Benfica were heading through on away goals, though with the tie still on a knife edge. Thirteen minutes was all Oliveira needed to make an impact, hitting the stoppage-time goal for 2-0 that put the contest beyond visitors Zenit and gave Jorge Jesus's men a 4-3 aggregate win.
"I was very happy," said the 20-year-old Benfica academy graduate. "Not just for myself, but because the goal allowed the team to reach the quarter-finals. We knew it would be a difficult match, but I was delighted to score a goal on my Champions League debut, it was very important for me."
His strike was no less significant for his club. After a three-year absence, Benfica had returned to dine at Europe's top table last season, yet failed to make it beyond the group stage after losing four of their matches. This time, however, they have excelled themselves and have a shot at getting to the final four. The young hero Oliveira believes that is down to the team "being a bit more experienced".
"We have had a very good run. Last year the team didn't have much Champions League experience. This year I think that, apart from playing well and having quality, we have shown our experience in the decisive matches. That's very important in the Champions League."
Oliveira is aware that Benfica will have to draw upon all that know-how if they are to overturn their 1-0 deficit against Chelsea FC in Wednesday's quarter-final second leg. "It will be a difficult match as Chelsea are a great team. Every year they are potential winners, it will be very close. We are among the eight best teams in Europe, so every game is difficult."
Should Jesus's charges triumph at Stamford Bridge, the signs are positive as Benfica have advanced to the final on the last two occasions they survived the last eight, in 1988 and 1990. "Any team we face now will be a big team, a very strong team. We know it's difficult to win this competition because there are such great teams, but we have our ambitions and we hope to go as far as possible."
Whatever the outcome in London, Oliveira – with nine Portuguese top-flight appearances under his belt – is certain the grounding he has gained this term will be vital for his development. "It's important. Playing in the Champions League for a side like Benfica is something very good, something that would enrich any player."
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