Runners-up last season, SL Benfica know what it takes to make the UEFA Europa League final and coach Jorge Jesus is targeting a return as his side carry an advantage into their round of 32 second leg against PAOK FC.
Following a 1-0 first-leg success in Salonika last Thursday the pressure should have eased on the Águias, but the 59-year-old coach does not see it that way. "We have extra pressure to go through because we won the first match," he said. "The responsibility is good to have. We want to go far in the competition and, of course if possible, get to the final again."
Jesus refuses to underestimate PAOK, however, realising that the Greek outfit will throw everything at their hosts in the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica. "They have to take risks and we know we will play against an experienced side. Their Greek players are all internationals. They are a hard team to beat and we have to be at the same level [as the first leg] to progress."
The coach confirmed that Óscar Cardozo, Nicolás Gaitán and Ezequiel Garay are all carrying injuries, saying: "We will train again and then we will see. If totally fit they might play." Even so, defender Sílvio is full of confidence that his team will proceed to a meeting with either FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk or Tottenham Hotspur FC. "PAOK are strong on the counter, but we will be up to the task," he reassured fans. "With our weapons we will, for sure, put in a good display and qualify. We are very strong."
PAOK coach Huub Stevens accepts his side are up against it as they bid to reach the UEFA Europa League's last 16 for the first time – indeed, he may have to chance his arm if they are to overturn the deficit. "We have to take risks now," he said. "It is my job to give my players the belief to perform well. We know how we lost, although we played well. We have to take risks."
According to midfielder Hedwiges Maduro, PAOK must stick to their core values in order to succeed. "The most important thing is to be ourselves and play our best. We know how Benfica play. They have a great team. We have to be patient. That is the most important thing in these matches."
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