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SL Benfica are aiming to overturn a 2-1 deficit at home against Paris Saint-Germain FC in the UEFA Cup Round of 16 but their beleaguered visitors are not about to give in.
Already out of the Portuguese Cup and four points adrift of FC Porto in the Liga title race, the success or failure of Benfica's season may hinge on their ability to undo the damage of their first-leg defeat in Paris. Should Fernando Santos's side succeed, a famous double will remain on the cards.
"We are approaching a crucial moment in our campaign," said club president Luís Filipe Vieira. "It will be all or nothing, and we want it all." Injuries played their part at the Parc des Princes as Benfica ceded the advantage handed them by Simão's early goal to lose 2-1. Influential midfielder Konstantinos Katsouranis did not play due to a sudden stomach problem, while centre-back Luisão (knee) and youngster João Coimbra (fatigue) both limped out of the action.
'We're the favourites'
Luisão is not fit for Thursday's return which midfielder Rui Costa - back in training yet still struggling with a thigh complaint - and goalkeeper Quim (ankle) will also miss. Yet coach Santos, whose men defeated UD Leiria 2-0 on Monday, is undeterred. "We're the favourites to win," he said. "We have to stay concentrated and minimise their possibilities on the counterattack. We must show no fear and do the one thing that we have to do: win."
Lying 19th in France's 20-team Ligue 1, the UEFA Cup is arguably a welcome distraction for a PSG side facing the prospect of a first relegation in their history. Last weekend's 1-0 home reverse against AJ Auxerre was their fourth straight league loss and for many, Sunday's fixture at Stade Rennais FC should be the main concern. However, central defender Sammy Traoré said European progress would offer a welcome morale boost: "There is no question of dismissing the UEFA Cup. The best way to prepare for the league match is to bring something back from Lisbon."
Traoré may be called into the starting lineup in the absence of Mario Yepes, ruled out for the season with an ankle injury, and Edouard Cissé, rested due to a groin problem. Coach Paul Le Guen is also without winger Cristian Rodriguez, who has yet to overcome a leg complaint. PSG can take comfort from the fact they are unbeaten on their travels in the UEFA Cup this term. Indeed, in four matches, they have not conceded a goal. "We have been struggling in France but have always produced results in Europe," said defender David Rozehnal. "Benfica are not at an advantage against us, although they are a good team. We still have a better chance of going through."
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