One man who is not surprised that qualification from UEFA Champions League Group D has gone right down to the wire is SL Benfica defender Léo.
With the last round of matches due to kick off, the possible permutations are bewildering and any one of the clubs in Group D can still qualify for the knock-out stage depending on results. Benfica, who are bottom of the group on five points, entertain Manchester United FC, a place above on six, at the Estádio da Luz with both clubs knowing that only a win will guarantee them that prized qualification spot.
"The truth is our group is very evenly matched," Brazilian left-back Léo told uefa.com. "No team wins anything today because of their history. United are a good team, but so are we and so are Villarreal [CF] and [LOSC] Lille [Métropole]. I am not surprised that it turned out like this. I knew it would end this way."
United will take a psychological advantage to Portugal, having beaten Benfica 2-1 at Old Trafford in September thanks to goals from Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooij, but their recent away form in Europe has been less than impressive. The 1998/99 European champions have not scored in their last five UEFA Champions League away matches and the win against Benfica in September saw their only goals in eight European encounters.
The Red Devils - who trail Chelsea FC by ten points in the Premiership - welcome back forward Wayne Rooney after he was suspended for the match at Old Trafford. And the England star will be a player to watch according to Léo. He said: "Rooney deserves special attention. He's got everything to be one of the best players in the world. He is strong and very, very dangerous.
Marked man Ronaldo
"Cristiano Ronaldo is another great player," he added. "But I marked him well in the first match and I think I can do it again this week. He is a good player, quick, really highly respected in Portugal and in Europe. But I think I can manage to stop him."
Wednesday's match will be an emotional occasion for United following the recent death of the legendary former player George Best. Best first exploded onto the international scene after leading the line in a 5-1 win against Benfica at the Da Luz in the second leg of the 1965/66 European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-final.
However, Léo made it clear that there would be no place for sentiment in a match that Benfica need to win to guarantee progression in a tournament they are competing in for the first time in seven years. "I don't think Best will be a factor," he said. "I think Best will be more remembered in England than Portugal. We just want to win."
With Group D leaders Villarreal entertaining second placed Lille in the other match, Léo said Benfica would be concentrating on their own game and he was confident of getting the result they needed. "I think we will go through and that would be wonderful - the best possible Christmas gift for both us and for the supporters."
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