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Koeman counts on European catalyst

Coach Ronald Koeman will be hoping that his SL Benfica side can raise their game for the visit of LOSC Lille Métropole as Group D gets under way.

Much-anticipated return
The visit of LOSC Lille Métropole to the Estádio da Luz on Wednesday evening for their opening Group D match will mark the first time the two-time European champions have made the competition's group stage since 1998/99. They have come close since, only to lose third qualifying round matches to S.S. Lazio and RSC Anderlecht in the past two seasons.

Poor form
This time round, Benfica are still seeking their first competitive win since Koeman succeeded Giovanni Trapattoni as coach in the summer. The Lisbon giants have collected just one point from three league games, but the Dutchman envisages a change of scenery could help his team rediscover their winning touch.

'Difficult opposition'
"When we don't win, criticism is natural," he said. "But I am very confident ahead of the game with Lille. It is a different competition and the one all clubs want to play in. This French side will provide very difficult opposition for us, as they have good players and I am sure they are motivated to do well in this competition, just like we are."

'Great matches'
Benfica captain Simão concurs with those sentiments, saying: "The Champions League is a different competition from a league championship or any other type of competition. I have honestly missed these great European matches. Lille are a great team who will have just as much motivation as us. But it is vital that we win our first game at home."

Experience vital
Koeman is boosted by the return of Petit and Bruno Aguiar, who both missed Saturday's Lisbon derby defeat by Sporting Clube de Portugal through injury, giving him a full squad to choose from. Petit is likely to start and Koeman will need as many experienced heads on the pitch as possible, as many of his side enter unknown territory.

'Desperate to win'
"Lille have no recent experience in this kind of competition, just like Benfica," said Koeman. "However, we have the big name of this club to defend and maybe this will be important for us. We have been working very hard and after some bad domestic results, I know my team are desperate to win our opening Champions League match."

'Tough match'
Lille coach Claude Puel has lost the services of defender Efstathios Tavlaridis, who is out with a twisted ankle, and expects a stern test of his side's credentials in Lisbon. "The game will be very tough, but we have what it takes to win," he said. "Benfica are a very strong team with players that can make a difference. However, I expect us to qualify from the group and continue our European adventure."

Odemwingie optimism
Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie, scorer of both Lille goals in the 2-0 Ligue 1 success at FC Metz at the weekend, is similarly confident, saying: "We were physically ready and now we are mentally ready. We are desperate to get started in the Champions League, these are the kind of matches you don't have to motivate yourself for. We expect a very difficult match in Portugal, but we are ready."