Paulo Bento believes his Sporting Clube de Portugal side will not let nerves get the better of them as they take a step into the unknown in their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie against FC Bayern München.
Article top media content
Paulo Bento is confident his Sporting Clube de Portugal side will not let nerves get the better of them when they take a step into the unknown in their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie against FC Bayern München.
Sporting have progressed beyond the group stage for the first time this season, while four-time European champions Bayern have returned to the top table with some aplomb after missing out last year. Even so, Bento's men are full of belief after Saturday's thrilling 3-2 win against SL Benfica brought them back into the race for the Portuguese title. As well as giving his charges "real hope", Bento said that the weekend result also underlined how far Sporting have come since his arrival in October 2005.
"The squad is mature now," he stressed. "We have to show that we've evolved, and getting to the quarter-finals would do that. We have two objectives – to get to first place in the Liga and to go as far as possible in the Champions League. We know that it will be difficult, so we have to take it step by step. The first step is this tie."
With Sporting having failed to beat a German team in 14 attempts in UEFA competition, Bento is realistic about the task at hand, explaining: "For a number of reasons, Bayern are clear favourites. They are a very well-organised team and well-balanced, so we have to be organised and, above all, enjoy the game." The 39-year-old, who should replace the injured Hélder Postiga (knee) with Derlei up front while the experienced Abel may be preferred to Pedro Silva at right-back, said a first victory over Bundesliga opposition is not his primary concern: "The main objective is to go through. If we can do that without winning either game outright, then fine."
Jürgen Klinsmann is not reading too much into the past either. The Bayern boss recognises Sporting's qualities – "we have a lot of respect for them, they are very good at bringing young players through" – while keeping faith in his side's capacity to reach the quarter-finals despite their poor domestic form. Bayern have lost three out of four Bundesliga matches since the resumption from the winter break, including Saturday's 2-1 home defeat by 1. FC Köln. Nevertheless, Klinsmann thinks his players can put things right at the Estádio José Alvalade.
Striking a balance
"It's always important to find the right balance between defence and attack. We haven't managed that yet in the Bundesliga, but we have done it quite well in the Champions League," he said. "We're excited about this game, about restarting our campaign after a long break." Indeed, the former Germany coach, who hopes Luca Toni will be fit to start after an achilles problem, reckons this game is just the sort of occasion to bring the best out of Bayern, saying: "It's difficult for the players to be 100 per cent every time, but I'm confident we will be at our best here. We know how to make the most of these kind of opportunities."