Sporting Clube de Portugal coach Paulo Bento is adamant there will be no let-up against FC Barcelona despite having already qualified for the UEFA Champions League knockout phase for the first time in the club's history.
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Sporting Clube de Portugal coach Paulo Bento is adamant that there will be no let-up against FC Barcelona despite the Lions having already qualified for the UEFA Champions League knockout phase for the first time in their history.
By beating FC Shakhtar Donetsk on Matchday 4, Sporting secured their progress into the last 16 of the competition alongside Barcelona. The bonus for Bento's team was the Blaugrana's draw with FC Basel 1893 on the same night, which means that a home win at the Estádio José Alvalade on Wednesday would take them above the Spanish Liga leaders and into first place in Group C.
"It's important to finish first, because it's always better than coming second," Bento said. "There's less pressure as we've already achieved our first objective, but we have a responsibility in this game as we do in every game. The aim is always to win. Of course this match comes between two important league fixtures, but we are used to having an eye on the next game. Above all, we want to show once again that we are contenders in the Champions League."
The 39-year-old has problems in defence, where Abel and Tonel are out and Pedro Silva is doubtful, but it is Sporting's attack which is causing more concern as they have scored just five times in their last seven Portuguese Liga outings. This drought has hardly hindered the Lisbon side in the UEFA Champions League, however, and Bento points out that "we've scored in all our European matches so far". Suitably heartened, he promises his team will attempt to reward the club's fans for their support with a grand occasion on Wednesday. "I expect us to put on a show, to thank our fans and to get pole position in the group," he said.
Bento's counterpart Josep Guardiola is in no mood to cede ground, though, knowing that a victory will clinch first place and top seeding in the 19 December draw. "We intend to put in a good performance and we intend to win, obviously," he said. Despite a daunting schedule of domestic encounters awaiting his charges, with successive games against title rivals Sevilla FC, Valencia CF and Real Madrid CF, Guardiola insists that Sporting should not be taken lightly. "We're not worrying too much about the upcoming matches," he said. "It's my duty to try and make us win every game, and this is no different."
The former Barcelona captain, who helped bring the European Champion Clubs' Cup to Camp Nou as a player in 1991/92, added that the memory of last term's semi-final defeat by eventual winners Manchester United FC was all the motivation his squad needed for any UEFA Champions League tie. "There's always an extremely high level in this competition, and I respect Sporting a lot – Paulo Bento is a very good coach," he said. "We want to go further in the competition than we did last year, and as we got to the semi-finals, that means the final."