Beaten in their previous seven European finals, SL Benfica could have been forgiven a hint of trepidation on the eve of the 2014 UEFA Europa League decider against Sevilla FC in Turin.
There was not a glimmer, however, on the part of Spanish striker Rodrigo, an exuberant talent whose young shoulders are more than strong enough to bear the weight of expectation. "The idea that we are cursed comes from the press," said the 23-year-old, who played 66 minutes of last term's chastening final defeat by Chelsea FC. "Nobody in the team is worried – we don't believe in any hoodoo and we're not under pressure. We will approach the game in a calm manner – I'm not nervous at all and it's just another game to me."
Such unwavering optimism permeates a Benfica side that accounted for Juventus in the semis and has already landed the 2013/14 Portuguese title and League Cup. Turn the clock back to last May and the Eagles were at breaking point as their treble aspirations foundered in the space of a month. "We're happy to be here – any footballer would be delighted to play in a game of this magnitude. Being here having won two titles makes us feel even more secure," Rodrigo enthused.
"We're here to win, of course, but tomorrow is just another game. We don't have any advantage, just high levels of confidence. We are used to big games in this competition and the Champions League. We have acquired experience and knowledge from those games that should stand us in good stead tomorrow evening."
Bubbling with confidence in the midst of his most productive season yet, the Real Madrid CF academy product is nonetheless too wise to fall victim to complacency. "Sevilla deserve to be here – nobody gets to the final purely on luck. They are strong from set pieces and have some fantastic players including [José Antonio] Reyes and [Carlos] Bacca," explained the forward, who attributes his breakthrough campaign to coach Jorge Jesus.
"When I came here I was very young. I have developed a lot as a player and the coach has played a very important role in that," he said. "Without a doubt this is the third and best season of my career in terms of goals, quality and confidence. I've been working for the group and we've had a great season – a season of triumphs."
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