Dutch side AZ Alkmaar travel to Lisbon aiming to dent Sporting Clube de Portugal's dream of contesting the UEFA Cup final on home soil.
By Diogo Teixeira & Berend Scholten
Sporting Clube de Portugal coach José Peseiro admits the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final with AZ Alkmaar tonight is an important moment in the club's history.
Like this game, the final will be played at Sporting's Estádio José Alvalade, and Alkmaar coach Co Adriaanse is insisting the Portuguese side are favourites to go through. But Peseiro, who is without the suspended Beto, injured defender Carlos Martins and striker João Mota, is taking nothing for granted.
"Being here is an important moment in Sporting history, and allows us to dream of achieving a goal we established at the start of the season - playing in the UEFA Cup final in our own stadium," he told uefa.com. "In the first match we have to get a result that allows to achieve that objective in the second leg.
"We will have to control the ball and try to impose the sort of football we play every week. If we do that I think we will be closer to the final. We are playing at home in front of our fans, we have quality, and even against a great team, I am sure we will achieve a good result."
Peseiro does not underestimate Alkmaar, though. He said: "They are a typical Dutch side, good going forward and able to play at the back. They play exciting, open football and are very motivated. Rather than pick out a key player, I would highlight the team effort."
Sporting are boosted by the return of Rui Jorge and Sá Pinto from suspension, while Joseph Enakarhire is back from injury. Adriaanse, however, lost right-back Jan Kromkamp to an ankle injury at the weekend, joining Martijn Meerdink and Joris Mathijsen on the sidelines. Barry Opdam is also banned, meaning 20-year-old Ron Vlaar could play in defence, while Ali Elkhattabi's fear of flying keeps him in the Netherlands.
Adriaanse said: "We are without three Dutch internationals, plus another who should have been selected. The product still carries the Alkmaar name, but if you open it up, you see it has very different ingredients."
According to the coach, Sporting are a better all-round outfit than Villarreal CF, Alkmaar's quarter-final victims. Adriaanse said: "One - they have home advantage. Two - they have very good players. Three - they have a very strong team. Four - we have been weakened. But that does not mean we will not be able to play well, and the other players have an excellent opportunity to prove themselves."
He also identified a possible Sporting weakness. "They play very modern football, whereby only three players do not support the attack - the goalkeeper and two central defenders. That also means they often get goals against them."