Nuno Gomes will carry the hopes of most of the packed Estádio da Luz crowd as SL Benfica meet Liverpool FC in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie.
Nuno Gomes carries the hopes of most of a sold out Estádio da Luz as SL Benfica prepare to take on Liverpool FC in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie. The striker shared a laugh with his coach Ronald Koeman as he was introduced as the Lisbon giants' "star player" at the pre-match conference, but with fellow strikers Fabrizio Miccoli and Geovanni ruled out through injury, the Portuguese international will be a key figure on Tuesday.
However, the 29-year-old feels no added pressure. "They are great players and it is pity that they cannot play," he said. "But we have other players in that position who can perform for us. We know the stadium is sold out and the support of our fans is very important for us. It is a great boost to morale and we hope we can give the fans what they want."
Nuno Gomes has not found the net in the UEFA Champions League this season despite registering 14 goals in 23 Liga matches. He now faces a team that conceded just one goal in the UEFA Champions League group stage as he seeks to break that duck. "It is a big test, a difficult test," he said. "But we have to try and win the game. We are playing at home and we want this to be a great match to watch. We will try everything to win. In the Champions League forwards have to play against strong defenders all the time so we are used to it. I hope Liverpool will be as worried about our strikers as we are about their defenders."
Nuno Gomes has only scored one goal this year as Benfica's domestic title defence has faltered with three defeats in their last four matches. Now he is glad of a different focus, saying: "We're confident that it is possible to beat Liverpool. Our aim is to win in order to forget our poor series of results. We have to keep on working and try to compensate for injuries, lack of luck and [in Portuguese football] the extra motivation that other teams have against us."
Just as Nuno Gomes is well aware of Liverpool's power, the English club's players have identified the long-haired predator as Benfica's man to watch. Reds defender Jan Kromkamp, who played against Benfica for Villarreal CF earlier in the competition and who is ineligible for the holders, said: "Nuno Gomes is a tough striker because he can score every type of goal - in the air and with both feet and he's always alert."
The forward has previously shown all those attributes against English opposition, famously scoring Portugal's winning goal against England at UEFA EURO 2000™. More recently he was in the Portugal team that defeated the same opposition in the UEFA EURO 2004™ quarter-final and also played his part as Benfica humbled Manchester United FC 2-1 on Matchday 6. Both those latter matches took place at the Estádio da Luz and Gomes is aiming to complete a hat-trick of wins. He said: "We hope to maintain that tradition."