Last season's UEFA Europa League runners-up SL Benfica go to AZ Alkmaar in high spirits to begin their quarter-final tie.
Despite a round of 16 scare in the home return against Tottenham Hotspur FC, Benfica have been in superb form, winning away first legs against both Spurs and last-32 opponents PAOK FC. Last week's Portuguese Cup semi-final loss at FC Porto was their only defeat since a 1-0 UEFA Champions League reverse at Olympiacos FC in November.
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said: "[Our recent European performances] just show how much quality we have, also on a European level. That's a good thing for the team, for the players, for the club and the image of the club. If you manage to perform at such a high level, then the whole world sees you and takes note."
Without suspended midfielder Enzo Pérez, Jesus added of AZ: "This team is from the Dutch league, which is a good league, with good teams. We've even signed two players from that league. They might not be as well-known as Ajax, but they're still a good Dutch team. They have quick players up front. They have technically strong players. They will surely make it hard for us. But Benfica also have good players, so we certainly have a good chance to get a result here."
AZ coach Dirk Advocaat may be missing banned defender Jan Wuytens on top of the long-term absence of Dirk Marcellis – and falling off the Eredivisie pace – but his side are unbeaten in their ten-game European run so far. "I don't think [it's a David and Goliath] situation, especially with our home game," Advocaat said. "We have a lot of respect for our opponents, but if Ajax can win against Barcelona, then we can win against Benfica, why not?"
As for making the most of that home advantage, he mused: "It's not necessarily a case of playing full-on attack, but we will try and play the same way we always play: well organised, that's the most important thing, and to attack whenever we get the chance."
Midfielder Nemanja Gudelj, familiar with his several Serbian compatriots among the visitors, added: "I have four friends in the Benfica squad. I've been in touch with [Filip] Djuričić in particular, because I needed to arrange some match tickets for him. [Djuričić] likes the fact he's playing against us, and he wants to win against us, but I want to win against them just as much. There is a lot of joking around over the phone, but we'll see what happens tomorrow."
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