In a week when Sporting Clube de Portugal could make history, head coach Paulo Bento is in no mood to get distracted by hypotheses – "we know that if we win, we're virtually through to the last 16," he said.
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In a week when Sporting Clube de Portugal could make history, Paulo Bento is in no mood to get distracted by hypotheses. For the Sporting coach, it is very simple: "We know that if we win, we're virtually through to the last 16."
After their 1-0 victory at FC Shakhtar Donetsk on Matchday 3, Sporting know that a repeat performance at the Estádio José Alvalade could guarantee them a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time. The proviso is that Group C's bottom side, FC Basel 1893, fail to pull off a shock by winning at leaders FC Barcelona. As the only one of Portugal's 'big three' never to have lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup, Sporting are eager to step out from SL Benfica and FC Porto's shadows and achieve what Bento says would be "historic for the club". The former Portuguese international midfielder, one of the youngest coaches in the competition at 39, is confident that anxiety will not get the better of his team.
"We have a clear objective – to get the points that will practically secure qualification for us," he said. Bento expects the occasion to inspire Sporting, who sit second in the group, three points above their third-placed visitors. "We have faith in our ability to go into the game strongly, and when a team has qualities like ours does, and is playing at home with a great atmosphere behind them, of course we feel we have a good chance to win. It would be great for the club, the players, and the coach as well." He added that the spirit shown against Shakhtar in Ukraine on 22 October will be crucial to his men in the rematch. "We displayed great togetherness in Donetsk, and we know we'll approach this match with belief and on the front foot."
The coach also evoked memories of 2005, when Sporting went all the way to the final of the UEFA Cup held at the Alvalade before losing out to PFC CSKA Moskva – just before Bento succeeded José Peseiro in the hot seat. He is determined that the emotion of this occasion will be managed in order to get the right result. "We need to be tactically and emotionally balanced," said Bento. "The motivation is always strong in the Champions League. It's natural for us to have our major objective [qualification] in mind, but we have to have our eyes on the three points first and foremost."
Shakhtar are also targeting a first progression from the group stage, although their task has been made more difficult by the home defeat by Sporting. Realistically, Mircea Lucescu's charges require a win in Lisbon to keep their chances of advancing alive. "Sporting are a very strong team, as we saw," said Lucescu, "but we'll do our very best to win." On the plus side, it was in the Portuguese capital last October that Shakhtar gained their first away success in the competition proper, against SL Benfica. The coach is not convinced this will have any bearing on his team's return to the city. "Every game's different," he stressed.