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Twelve months on from their heartbreaking loss to Chelsea FC in Amsterdam, SL Benfica are back in the UEFA Europa League final, and captain Luisão hopes this time he can lift the trophy.
Sevilla FC await Benfica in Turin on Wednesday at the very stadium where they eliminated Juventus to reach this season's showpiece. Brazilian defender Luisão, who kept Juve out having scored twice in the vital 3-1 round of 16 first-leg win at Tottenham Hotspur FC, spoke to UEFA.com about leading Benfica to the final with five clean sheets in eight games.
UEFA.com: This is Benfica's second successive UEFA Europa League final. What do you put the club's good performances in this competition down to?
Luisão: I think it's hard work. It's not easy for a team to reach two successive finals, which goes to show that consistent hard work – work which has been done on a day-to-day basis – has borne fruit.
UEFA.com: The team won the Portuguese championship brilliantly. What was it like trying to juggle both competitions?
Luisão: It's difficult, but we have a top-quality squad. So regardless of the individual player that goes out on the pitch, we maintain the team standard, and this has been the secret to winning the championship and reaching the other finals too.
UEFA.com: You scored twice in the away leg against Tottenham. I'm sure it was a memorable occasion for you?
Luisão: It was certainly a momentous game for me. It's hard enough scoring one goal, but scoring twice ... Well, it was the first time I've managed to score two in a game.
UEFA.com: We know you're renowned for not conceding goals, but which is more gratifying – not conceding or scoring?
Luisão: Personally, it's more satisfying defending and not conceding. That's what we managed to do against Juventus. So I'm happier defending goals than scoring them.
UEFA.com: What's it like being captain of Benfica?
Luisão: It's a great responsibility, but a very gratifying one. It's a very good responsibility to have. Ever since I was a child I've always dreamt about having a role in a great team, and this dream has come true every day I've gone out on the pitch.
UEFA.com: How would you define your leadership style?
Luisão: I think it's quite a natural style. I demand a lot of myself before asking anything of the players.
UEFA.com: In terms of dominating the centre-half position: do you think this can be developed in training or does it come with experience?
Luisão: I think to a certain extent you're born with it, it's something that comes from within you. But with time, and with practice too, you get to know your limits and your abilities. You have the humility to know how much you can achieve on the pitch, and that starts growing with your perspective on the game.
UEFA.com: In your opinion, what was the decisive factor in Benfica reaching the final?
Luisão: My focus is always on work ethic – both the work that we put in last season and the work that we are showing this season. It's a serious commitment that we all put in every day. It's a work ethic based on humility.
UEFA.com Now let's talk about the Juventus game. It was a very difficult second leg, wasn't it?
Luisão: It was a great game – we already knew it would be a very tough test, not least because of the emotion surrounding it. And the atmosphere was even better in that respect. It was a tough, and emotional game – and we're really happy to have won.
UEFA.com: Did the fact you were reduced to nine men give you a greater sense of team unity?
Luisão: I think the fact we are really strong helped. We have great belief in ourselves, we respect ourselves as players, and we have faith in our team-mates' abilities. So when you don't play with the full 11 men, you become a different player in a sense. They are all things that make you respect yourself more as a player and you learn to deal with adversity – we showed that.
UEFA.com: Now you face Sevilla ...
Luisão: It will be very difficult. We are two teams with a shared goal going into this final. It will all come down to one game, and we have great respect for them – we know there are two teams that will be competing in this final.
UEFA.com: You've been at Benfica more than ten years now. You've already won all the domestic honours available. What would victory in a European competition mean to you?
Luisão: I've never given it much thought, but undoubtedly managing to win a European competition, which is not an impossibility as we've reached the final, would be very special because being a champion for Benfica is always special.
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