Despite carrying a 1-0 first-leg advantage into Thursday's quarter-final return fixture with AZ Alkmaar, SL Benfica coach Jorge Jesus knows that at this stage of the UEFA Europa League no cushion is big enough to guarantee progress.
"There is no margin from the away match that says to us that the tie is decided. Teams are very equal and 1-0 leaves the tie open, both for Alkmaar and for Benfica," said Jesus, who lost the final of this competition with the Eagles last season. "Our advantage doesn't give us room for any type of relaxing. With the teams involved at this level, any result is possible."
The Portuguese confirmed that last week's match winner Eduardo Salvio will be fit to play, but is undecided on the participation of forward Óscar Cardozo, who ended a five-month scoring drought with two for the Liga leaders against Rio Ave FC on Monday. "[Cardozo] is an option. The minutes he is given are governed by the game situation. What matters is what is best for the team. A player could be better than another depending on the situation, because he may have more rhythm or be better for what we want."
Given their experience of getting to last year's showpiece, many are backing Benfica to do the same again, but defender André Almeida refuses to accept a favourites' tag. "With so many good teams at this stage no one side can be, instead we are all are favourites," argued the 23-year-old.
Meanwhile, AZ coach Dick Advocaat believes there is still everything to play for, despite the reverse on home soil. "The tie is open – at 1-0 it is possible to go through," said the former Netherlands boss. "The pressure is on Benfica. We lost at home, so we came here to play our football in an open fashion and with nothing to lose. Benfica have more to lose. We believe we can score. We won't be afraid and we won't play defensively. As I said, we have nothing to lose."
One of the men charged with getting the goal that will bring the Dutch side back into the contest is forward Aron Jóhannsson, who echoes Advocaat's sentiments. "We believe we can create chances, like at home, and we expect to be happier and to score. Of course I expect to score, a striker always expects to score. It's our task."
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