European debutants Portsmouth FC launch their UEFA Cup group campaign against SC Braga in Portugal next week, but striker Jermain Defoe can be forgiven for thinking ahead to the following fixture – the visit of AC Milan.
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Having knocked out Braga's Portuguese rivals Vitória SC after extra time to progress from their first UEFA competition tie, the FA Cup holders were drawn with Braga, VfL Wolfsburg, SC Heerenveen, and the team which will visit Fratton Park on 27 November, AC Milan. Defoe, who played in the last two UEFA Cups for former club Tottenham Hotspur FC and scored in the first leg against Guimarães, was on England duty with club-mates Peter Crouch, Glen Johnson and David James when the draw was made on 7 October, his 26th birthday, and is already looking forward to the visit of the six-time European champions.
"I was in the hotel, Crouchy's the one that told me, then I got a text from someone at the club," Defoe said. "I was delighted. You want to play in big games as a player, that's where you get judged. I've got texts about tickets already. It's massive, they are the games as a footballer that you want to play in. Me and Crouchy and Johnno and Jamo were delighted when we heard that."
Tribute to club
Signed in January, Defoe has already scored 15 goals for Pompey including seven this season. He also ended a two-year wait for a competitive international strike when he put England 5-1 up against Kazakhstan at Wembley on Saturday as a late substitute in the FIFA World Cup qualifier. The former West Ham United FC trainee believes big European games are just what manager Harry Redknapp and the supporters deserve. "It's good for them because they are a great bunch of fans," he said. "And the manager, and everyone involved in the football club. I'm looking forward to playing in those games."
A 2006/07 UEFA Cup quarter-finalist with Spurs, Defoe knows how important playing in European competition is to his development as a striker and his international ambitions. That is what gave him an extra thrill when Portsmouth won the FA Cup in May, even though he was ineligible having already represented Tottenham in the competition. "Being a forward, playing against some of the best defenders in Europe is really important," Defoe said. "It's different from the Premier League, it's great. At Spurs we played in the UEFA Cup and I really enjoyed it, travelling and playing different teams. That's why I was so delighted when I joined the club and we went on to win the FA Cup. People said: 'Are you disappointed you didn't play in the final?' And to be honest I was just looking forward to playing in Europe the next season."