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It has not been an easy start for goalkeeper Roberto since his arrival at SL Benfica, but the start of their UEFA Champions League campaign against Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC offers a personal chance for redemption.
A year ago Roberto, having rejoined Club Atlético de Madrid after a season with RC Recreativo de Huelva, was given his UEFA competition debut on Matchday 2 at FC Porto. Just 26 minutes in, with the game goalless, Roberto was forced off through injury. His team went on to lose 2-0, and Roberto was never to play for Atlético again, being loaned to Real Zaragoza in January before his €8.5m summer switch to the Portuguese champions.
However, his start with Benfica has been fraught opening with – coincidentally – a 2-0 Super Cup loss to Porto. On Friday, they went down 2-1 at Vitoria SC, the Eagles' third loss by that scoreline in just four Liga matches. But as he prepared to face group stage debutants Hapoel on Tuesday, Roberto said: "We are talking about different competitions, match preparation is different and our opponents' approach is also different. We have to believe in what we are doing here because that's the only way to have confidence in the future."
Benfica have been absent from the UEFA Champions League for the last two seasons, and Roberto, having had a taste of the competition last year, knows how important taking part is to the two-time European titleholders. "It's very important for our team to be in this competition," the 24-year-old said. "By being here it proves the class and greatness of this club and it's natural that fans are happy about it."
Only once in Benfica's previous five group campaigns have they begun at home, and it proved a lucky omen as they defeated LOSC Lille Métropole on their way to the 2005/06 quarter-finals. But Roberto does not expect Hapoel to be pushovers in Group B. "We know that they are a tough team playing well in their country, that's the reason they are here," the former Spain Under-21 goalkeeper said. "Still, we are focused on our job and that's winning this match."
Although it has not been an easy introduction to Lisbon for Roberto, he remains upbeat despite the pressure of being the most expensive goalkeeper ever bought by a Portuguese club, indeed in the top ten worldwide. "The important thing now is to train well, feel confident and keep my head in order not to make another mistake," Roberto added. "I have always felt confident: the club and my team-mates believe in me. I am the same keeper that played in Spain."
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