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Sweet relief for Benfica's Simão

Simão admitted it was "a relief" to still be in contention for a UEFA Cup semi-final place after SL Benfica came back from 3-0 down to lose 3-2 at RCD Espanyol.

Simão was relieved to see SL Benfica score two potentially vital away goals as they came from three behind against RCD Espanyol to maintain their hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Cup semi-finals.

Away goals
First-half goals from Raúl Tamudo and Albert Riera together with an early second-half header from substitute Walter Pandiani - his tenth of the European campaign - looked to have given the home side a healthy lead to take to Lisbon next week, but Benfica responded with a quick-fire double from Nuno Gomes and Simão to bring them back into contention of reaching the last four.

'Poor first half'
"It was a relief to get those two goals," Simão told uefa.com. "We had a poor first half and the coach asked for a better performance at half-time. We managed to do that by getting two away goals and we now have a chance to progress to the semi-finals in front of our own fans."

Deflected second
Benfica coach Fernando Santos raised eyebrows with his decision to leave Rui Costa on the substitutes' bench and there was no doubt the Lisbon side looked a more potent outfit when the experienced playmaker replaced João Coimbra just before the break. Fellow substitute Fabrizio Miccoli also perked up the attack and it was the Italian striker who beat the offside trap to tee up Nuno Gomes for a simple tap-in on 63 minutes before Simão played the captain's part by adding a second with the aid of a deflection two minutes later.

Useful changes
"The changes certainly helped us get back into the game," admitted Simão who knows his away around the Catalan capital after spending two seasons with FC Barcelona earlier in his career. "Rui Costa is a great player and was able to adjust to the tempo of the game very quickly after he came on. The pace of Miccoli will always cause a problem for defences and he had another chance near the end which could have made it 3-3, but we are happy to have got the two goals after being so far behind."

Espanyol menace
Looking ahead to the return leg in Lisbon next Thursday, Simão is confident the Portuguese giants can complete the job at the Estádio da Luz although he added a note of caution about the threat posed by the Espanyol attack. "We are at home in front of 65,000 of our own supporters, so it is now in our own hands whether we progress to the semi-finals," he said. "The two away goals have given us something to build on, but we saw tonight that Espanyol have some very good forwards in Tamudo, [Luis] García and Pandiani. They will be dangerous on the counterattack in Lisbon and we will have to watch them carefully."