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Having played in the last Paris Saint-Germain FC side to take on SL Benfica, former Portugal striker Pauleta will be a suitably intrigued observer when the Parisians face his nation's most successful club in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 on Thursday.
Pauleta's PSG met Benfica at the same stage of the 2006/07 UEFA Cup, and although the 'Azores Cyclone' scored in a 2-1 first-leg home win they lost out with a 3-1 defeat in Lisbon – Simão grabbing the Eagles' crucial third goal from the penalty spot a minute from time. An unhappy ending for PSG perhaps, yet Pauleta, now 37, remembers the two fixtures fondly.
"When you play abroad and face another team from your country it is always a matter of pride, even more so when your opponent is Benfica," said Portugal's 47-goal record scorer. "PSG were eliminated on that occasion but it was a very even tie. Benfica won through with a late goal at the Estádio da Luz."
The only footballer capped by Portugal without having played a Portuguese top-flight match, Pauleta represented PSG from 2003 to 2008 – scoring the only goal of their 2004 French Cup final triumph against LB Châteauroux and winning the same competition again in 2006 as well as the League Cup two years later. Overall he hit 109 goals in 211 games for the Ligue 1 outfit, and was later named PSG's top player of the last 40 years.
Still serving PSG as both ambassador and mentor to young players, Pauleta feels the upcoming tie – beginning in Lisbon on Thursday – will be a cracker. "Whoever wins has every chance of reaching the final," he said, reflecting on the form of both clubs. "It is hard to pick a favourite as these are two good teams going through fine spells. Individually, Benfica have more quality players but I predict an even contest with two great games.
"PSG are having a very good season with a mixture of quality, experienced players and promising youngsters," added Pauleta. "This group have been together for two or three years, and they are stronger than they were. For the last two years, Benfica have played real quality football with top-class players. They are very strong."
Pauleta – who also played for GD Estoril-Praia, UD Salamanca, RC Deportivo La Coruña and FC Girondins de Bordeaux – rates highly Antoine Komouaré's side, who sit fifth in Ligue 1. "Defensively, PSG are a great team, they have not conceded many this season. Guillaume Hoarau and Mevlüt Erdinç, who replaced me, are very good in attack but we should not forget Nenê and Ludovic Giuly on the flanks."
Benfica, second in Portugal behind FC Porto, have plentiful attacking options themselves. It is no accident that they registered 18 victories in all competitions before Sunday's sequence-ending 2-1 Liga defeat at SC Braga. "Benfica are very strong up front, especially on the left wing, with Fábio Coentrão and Nicolás Gaitán," Pauleta conceded. "The final is approaching and whoever wins here will receive a confidence boost for the rest of the competition."
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