Sporting Clube de Portugal's João Benedito talks about his UEFA Futsal Cups with the Lions, looks ahead to facing FC Barcelona and says what the club means to him.
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The first UEFA Futsal Cup ended with an eight-team final tournament hosted by Sporting Clube de Portugal at what is now the Meo Arena in Lisbon – and the same club and same venue hold the event again from Friday.
Sporting goalkeeper João Benedito played in that inaugural 2001/02 edition as Sporting fell in the semi-finals to Spain's Playas de Castellón FS. Another Iberian derby is scheduled for Friday when Sporting play FC Barcelona in the semis, the stage at which the Catalans beat Benedito's side in 2012 in Lleida, a year after the Lions had finished runners-up in Almaty. Benedito sat down with UEFA.com to look back on his previous final touraments, including the pain of that 2011 loss to Italy's ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5, Sporting having overcome hosts Kairat Almaty in the last four.
First finals in 2002 ...
"It was a fantastic event. It was something very new for the vast majority of the players. But we were only focused on ourselves. Back then there were few players who had complete freedom to train, because they were working, many were studying; many of us had never experienced being a professional, we didn't associate that word with it.
"Beforehand we trained like crazy and then we would be tired. There were even players who had never been in a hotel. There was a very curious incident with a player who played against Sporting with Viseu.
When he arrived at breakfast and saw all that food he filled himself up. Then when he arrived at training things didn't go so well.
"But that was a really fantastic event, and many people came just to get to know more about futsal and its rules. People were getting acquainted with futsal, you could see that more people were attending the matches every day. We knew we were doing something really important for our sport. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to play in the final because we were knocked out in the semis against what was to be my team in 2006/07, Playas de Castellón – a really fantastic side. They had Brazilian beach football players who were more accustomed to the rhythm of futsal. That team was really impressive."
On 2011 ...
"It's a very difficult and sensitive issue to address – with all due respect to the other two teams, Kairat and Montesilvano, we should have won that trophy and lifted it in Almaty, for the final that we played. I think any one of the players, coaches or directors who took part felt – and our fans too – that that was our chance to win the UEFA Futsal Cup. Sporting could have been champions of Europe.
It was a very sad and difficult moment to experience – the aftermath, the days after the final.
"And then the next week we played in the final four of the Portuguese Cup, but we didn't fall. What happened, had happened, because we played that game with Montesilvano and it went by in a flash."
On 2012 ...
"In 2012, we left with the feeling that we couldn't have done much more in the competition, given the way we played and how we ended up losing to Barcelona. We got a bittersweet feeling, that we couldn't have done more. However, it could have happened for us on penalties against the Italian team [Marca Futsal in the third-place play-off] – we could have won that one."
On Sporting now compared with then ...
"We're undergoing a rebuilding phase throughout Sporting as a club, which includes the futsal team. That's because a few important players who were very influential have left in these last two years. This year we have a team that is less experienced at this level, we have a team which has been going through some challenges but which knows how to cope with these difficult moments and how to overcome them. As such, the future can be very, very promising for this team."
On facing Barcelona on Friday …
"They are a really tough team with very strong players and a really good coach. They're not too dissimilar to the mix we have at Sporting. They're a big team. It's a big club, with all their values and capacity, both organisational and technical, and their infrastructure too. Allied to that is a very good budget – the buying of players is done at a professional and high-quality level. However, we are a very good team and we can face them without fear."
On his time at Sporting ...
I've spent 20 years at this club. It's a marriage for myself as a player that has lasted many years, and as a fan since time immemorial. I have roots here – my grandfather worked for the club, and my father too and later he went on to become a player. This has a special significance because my Sporting connection comes from different places – as fan, member and player. Few people share this feeling. What's required is that our players are professional, but obviously I have this privilege of being able to celebrate in various capacities and to experience things differently. Sometimes self-control is difficult because being a fan as a player of the club is not easy, but I think I've managed it. I also think that in the last few years I've been captain of the team and captains should be judged on the trophies they win. Representing Sporting is a source of pride that has been instilled in me through the years."
On imagining lifting the trophy ...
"It's crossed my mind in other final fours that we've competed in. I admit that this year I'm trying to get it out of my head and not think about it. If the other times I thought about it, this time it's become a sort of superstition that by not thinking about it, it might actually happen."