Sporting Clube de Portugal's Liedson is confident his team will flourish under the spotlight in Wednesday's final.
By Onofre Costa
Portugal's top scorer this season with 25 goals in 30 SuperLiga appearances, Liedson da Silva Muniz must pinch himself every time he takes to the pitch with Sporting Clube de Portugal to convince himself he is not dreaming.
Now 27, the forward is at the top of his game and preparing for his first European final as Sporting take on PFC CSKA Moskva in Wednesday's UEFA Cup showpiece. However, seven years ago, he was making a living stacking shelves in a supermarket in his native Brazil.
At 22, the slender striker who is 1.75m tall and weighs just 63kg, started his move up the footballing ladder, signing a contract which meant his registration was shared by local clubs Prudentópolis and Coritiba FC, but he did not hit the big time until he joined top-flight SC Corinthians on loan.
Ten goals in 18 matches in the 2003 campaign aroused Sporting's interest, and Liedson crossed the Atlantic for €2m in the summer of 2003. He scored 15 SuperLiga goals in his first season, but has hit the heights with his performances in 2004/05.
With nine UEFA Cup goals to his name already, he is in confident mood as the final approaches. "Our expectations are the highest possible," he told uefa.com. "We are well prepared despite some fatigue due to the large number of matches we have played lately, but this team's desire to win will overcome everything."
Having been suspended for Saturday's defeat by SL Benfica - which ended Sporting's SuperLiga title hopes - Liedson has had an extra day to focus on Wednesday's game. He has taken time to see what CSKA can do, and knows they are not a side to be underestimated.
"We know how good our opponents are," he said. "We respect them and we know they have as much chance as we do, but we must do everything in order to impose our home advantage. We know the CSKA defence is very good and very strong but we also have good attacking weapons, which will enable us to break them down."
The sharpest weapon in that armoury is, of course, Liedson himself. Much will be expected of him by the Estádio José Alvalade crowd, not to mention the huge worldwide television audience for the final, but he insisted neither he nor his team-mates will wilt under the spotlight.
"Yes, it's true there will be a lot of people watching us - not just me, but all the players on that pitch," he said. "We have reached the final together. The European and world scouts will be watching, some more closely than others, but we will all have a chance to show what we can do."
Of course, the final is about more than individual players, and to add to the burden of home advantage, Sporting also know that they have not won a European trophy for 41 years, since the class of 1963/64 defeated MTK Hungária FC 1-0 after a replay to take the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.
However, if the burden of history is weighing heavily upon Liedson's slender frame, it does not show. Having scored goals all season, there is a quiet belief about him. "I hope to be in that lucky group of players for whom the final goes well," he said.