Sporting Clube de Portugal's stalwart goalkeeper João Benedito speaks to UEFA.com about their route to the finals, their opponents' strength and the joy of working with Orlando Duarte.
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Last year SL Benfica claimed the UEFA Futsal Cup in Lisbon – now Sporting Clube de Portugal hope to wrest the trophy from their city rivals across Europe in Almaty.
Sporting, in the last four for the first time since hosting the inaugural 2001/02 eight-team finals, face hosts Kairat Almaty in Friday's semis. Having knocked out Spain's ElPozo Murcia FS 5-3 in a home elite round thriller, goalkeeper João Benedito told UEFA.com that confidence is high.
UEFA.com: Tell us about qualifying – what were emotions like after that dramatic win against Murcia in the elite round?
João Benedito: Qualification started in Slovakia where we were not expecting to face teams that strong. Nevertheless we qualified with some close results. Then in Lisbon it was a weekend packed with strong emotions as we started with a draw. We thought at that time that maybe we won't make it but we responded very well against [City'US] Târgu Mureş. Against Murcia we hit a very high level, supported by tireless fans. All those conditions made the qualification possible.
UEFA.com: What was your most memorable moment in qualifying?
Benedito: The most memorable moment was qualification itself. We had some difficulties. Sometimes when things go wrong the players tend to go down a little bit. The fifth goal against Murcia was a decisive moment. With the score at 5-3 we had the feeling that the qualification will not run away from us.
UEFA.com: There are two Portuguese teams in the finals and for the first time no Spanish or Russian sides. What does this say about the strength of Portuguese futsal?
Benedito: It says very much about the way we work in Portugal bearing in mind the quality of the players. The fact there are no Spanish or Russian teams? Well regarding the Spanish we eliminated Murcia. Portugal has been showing its strength with the [UEFA Futsal EURO 2010 runner-up] national team as well as at club level. We have a good transfer policy and I think the game has a bright future.
UEFA.com: Is the balance of power shifting?
Benedito: I think that there's a constant narrowly the gap between all the countries. New methods are being followed by each country. In the beginning Spain was the supreme country in terms of futsal because they started first. They started futsal professionally before everybody else so they were the first to collect the benefits. Currently all the countries are closer. Results are more even nowadays as every team can beat each other.
UEFA.com: What are Kairat Almaty's strengths?
Benedito: They will be at home and they have passionate supporters. That can be decisive for a team who play at home in a competition like this, inside an arena. They have very experienced players. They are used to this level.
UEFA.com: How much does having your rivals Benfica in the finals add to the occasion and drama?
Benedito: As a Portuguese I am very proud of two Portuguese clubs being present. As a player and Sporting captain they are another opponent like everybody else. I am sure they will make our life difficult.
UEFA.com: What are Benfica's strengths?
Benedito: Benfica are the reigning European champions. Last season they had the experience of playing in the finals and won it. They have had more or less the same team for many years as the players know perfectly well how to play together. This season they added some players to key positions. As they're the holders, an experienced team and have brought in quality players, they are one of the candidates to win the title again.
UEFA.com: And ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5?
Benedito: It was surprising for me seeing them reach the finals because they had a very difficult group with an Azerbaijani and a Russian team and the group matches were held in Ekaterinburg. They are strong physically as they put all their effort into the game. They have no problems in putting their defensive line very deep waiting to 'kill' the game with a counterattack. They have some experienced players from the Italian national team. I am sure they will be hard opponents as they proved all their strengths in the elite round.
UEFA.com: Tell us what it is like working with coach Orlando Duarte – a man you know well...
Benedito: I have known Orlando Duarte for almost 18 years. I knew him first at Sporting, then I continued working with him in the national team and he has returned to Sporting now. It was a complete joy for me seeing him returning to the club. He is very methodical and well organised – a natural leader. All the players who want to improve their skills feel they are fortunate to work with such a coach.