Despite successive setbacks, SL Benfica travel to FC Shakhtar Donetsk more in expectation than hope. "It's simple: we have to reach the UEFA Cup," said Luisão.
Despite seeing their chances of progress in the UEFA Champions League dashed by a goal scored over 2,000km away last week, and a proud unbeaten domestic run ended by FC Porto on Saturday, SL Benfica travel to FC Shakhtar Donetsk more in expectation than hope. "We have to forget these defeats, put any negative thoughts aside, and win a UEFA Cup berth," said defender Luisão.
Two points adrift
The Eagles thought they had done enough to keep their Group D aspirations alive last Wednesday after drawing 1-1 against AC Milan in Lisbon, only for a late Celtic FC winner against Shakhtar to leave Benfica playing solely for a place in the UEFA Cup. Two points adrift at the bottom of the section, only an away victory will suffice if they are to remain in Europe in the new year. "Things haven't gone well for us this week," said midfielder Rui Costa. "Let's see if we can get the victory we need in Ukraine on Tuesday."
After pushing Milan all the way – with Rui Costa particularly impressive against his former club – Benfica suffered a first Portuguese Liga reverse since November 2006 when Ricardo Quaresma's super goal settled the weekend summit meeting in the champions' favour at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica. "We played a bad game," continued Rui Costa. "Porto took early control of the match and were stronger than us. In the second half we played more with our hearts than our heads. We wasted a great chance to reignite the championship and are now up against it."
It is an even sorrier story for Benfica in the UEFA Champions League, especially as Shakhtar could yet advance with a win provided Milan, who are already through, see off Celtic at San Siro. "We played to win against Milan and played some quality football despite failing to beat them," Luisão said. "We'll play with the same desire on Tuesday and I hope we'll get the right result this time. We're not afraid of the cold weather, but have to think about our rivals' players. It will not be easy but the team is in excellent condition. There are no problems with motivation as it's very simple – only a win will do."