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Santos believing in Benfica

RCD Espanyol may be 3-2 ahead but SL Benfica coach Fernando Santos thinks the momentum will be with the hosts as their quarter-final tie concludes in Lisbon.

RCD Espanyol may be carrying a slender lead into their UEFA Cup quarter-final second leg but SL Benfica coach Fernando Santos believes the momentum will be with the home side in Lisbon.

'Wide open'
Benfica were caught cold by a rampant Espanyol in the first leg, falling three goals behind inside an hour before replying through Nuno Gomes and Simão. With two away goals on the board and a capacity crowd anticipated, Santos is backing his men to complete the comeback on Thursday. "The tie is wide open but we're confident," he said. "I wasn't surprised by Espanyol's performance last week - I was only surprised by our poor first half. But my players showed character and if we start as we finished over there, we can go through."

Changes expected
The two-time European champions have not enjoyed ideal preparations, drawing 2-2 at bottom club SC Beira-Mar on Monday to drop three points adrift of Liga leaders FC Porto. Santos refused to concur with claims that his players appeared jaded, but admitted he intends to make "a few changes" from last week. "The players should not be thinking about tiredness. It's no use worrying about past matches. We need to be totally focused and I'm sure the crowd will remind the players of their duties."

Rui Costa role
Santos welcomes Greece midfielder Konstantinos Katsouranis back from suspension, while the vastly experienced Rui Costa could make his first start in more than two months as Benfica bid to break a run of nine winless matches against Spanish opposition. Brazilian defender Luisão (knee) is again missing, however, and doubts remain over the fitness of Petit (thigh) and Fabrizio Miccoli (calf), who caused such problems after coming off the bench in Barcelona.

Tamudo missing
For their part, Espanyol have lost the services of captain Raúl Tamudo, the team's talismanic striker injuring his calf after opening the scoring in this tie. Yet coach Ernesto Valverde has the perfect replacement in Walter Pandiani, the UEFA Cup's leading marksman with ten strikes, and is confident his charges will rise to the challenge. "These are the games every player wants to be play in," Valverde said. "There'll be a great atmosphere and a great team up against us. We have a slight advantage in terms of the score and it's up to us to make the most of our hard work last week."

Electric form
While Benfica possess greater experience, Espanyol, UEFA Cup finalists in 1987/88, have been in electric form this term, scoring 27 times on their way to eight victories and one draw in Europe. Valverde is urging the Spanish Cup winners to maintain their attacking verve, saying: "The team that wins will be the one that imposes its style. If we play for a goalless draw, the chances are we'll fail. Players like Petit, Simão and Rui Costa can punish us from long range so we must not let Benfica pin us back. We're strong away because we have quick players and we counterattack with speed. It's important that we try to score."

Probable teams
Benfica:
Quim; Nélson, Anderson, David Luiz, Léo; Georgios Karagounis/Rui Costa, Konstantinos Katsouranis, Petit, Simão; Nuno Gomes, Derlei/Fabrizio Miccoli.

Espanyol: Gorka Iraizoz; Pablo Zabaleta, Marc Torrejón, Daniel Jarque, Francisco Chica; Moisés Hurtado; Francisco Rufete, Iván de la Peña, Luis García, Albert Riera; Walter Pandiani.