"I'm 34 but I feel like I'm 25," said FC Bayern München's Brazilian midfielder Zé Roberto on the eve of a second-leg tie against Sporting Clube de Portugal in which he could roll back the years by playing on the left wing.
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FC Bayern München midfielder Zé Roberto knows all about the seemingly impossible becoming possible, and is in no mood to allow Sporting Clube de Portugal to create a UEFA Champions League miracle by overturning a 5-0 deficit when the sides meet again on Tuesday.
The former Brazilian international was in the Bayern team that recorded the competition's biggest ever first-leg advantage in Lisbon, leaving Sporting with no other option than to write their own chapter of history if they want to reach the quarter-finals. However, he was also part of the Bayer 04 Leverkusen side that twice missed out on the Bundesliga title in dramatic fashion, with the 2001/02 season also seeing them lose the UEFA Champions League and German Cup finals.
Such defeats mean Zé Roberto's message ahead of the first knockout round second leg at the Fuβball Arena München is 'never say never'. "We're highly focused," said the 34-year-old, who has featured in all but one of Bayern's seven European games this term, scoring twice. "It looks easy for us because we won the first leg 5-0, but it's not easy – far from it. It's a Champions League match and anything can happen. We want to win it."
The one-time Real Madrid CF player is enjoying an Indian summer, producing some of the best football of his career in his second spell at Bayern, whom he initially joined in 2002 before returning in 2007 after a year-long hiatus with Santos FC in his homeland. Influential in a central role alongside captain Mark van Bommel, the evergreen midfielder turned back the clock to his Leverkusen days when he started on the left flank on Saturday, providing crosses for two goals in the 5-1 victory over Hannover 96 which lifted Bayern into second in the Bundesliga.
His efforts have been rewarded with the offer of a new one-year contract when his current deal expires in the summer, but Zé Roberto believes he is ready to play on beyond 2010: "I've learned a lot here, and I've always been happy. It's more than a club – it feels like home. When I came back from Santos, I thought I would finish my career here. But I feel so good now. I'm 34, but I feel like I'm 25 – that's why I thought that the offer could have been a bit longer."
With Franck Ribéry sidelined by injury, Zé Roberto will again line up on the left against a Sporting team who have all but resigned themselves to repairing their reputation, rather than rewriting the record books. "It's never easy when you lose like that at home," said visiting defender Tonel. "We want to show we're better than that here. We have to tell ourselves the first leg was only one game. It didn't go well but we have had a good season, and we have to defend the colours of Sporting. We have come here to show that we can play football, and it would be a dream if we could win."