Benfica may have knocked Manchester United out of last season’s Champions League but their coach, Fernando Santos, is expecting a tougher proposition when the sides meet in Lisbon on Tuesday.
Santos warned that the English team were “stronger than last season” – a sentiment echoed by his Old Trafford counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson.
“We made a fantastic start (taking an early lead through Paul Scholes) and we lost concentration,” Ferguson said.
“You can’t do that in Europe. It’s a mental thing. You hope the experience of games like last year in Benfica helped to drive the message home.”
Tonight promises to be a special occasion for Cristiano Ronaldo, who makes his first Champions League appearance since United’s last visit to this stadium. The former Sporting player was booed that night and his response to the crowd earned him a one-match suspension.
“He’s intelligent, he’s growing up terrifically,” said Ferguson. “He’s been fantastic for us this season, our best player, so he understands (how to respond). On Saturday once again he was our best attacker. At 21 years of age it’s a fantastic future the lad’s got.”
Ferguson has no injury worries, with Louis Saha, suffering a slight strain, expected t partner Wayne Rooney up front.
Santos, meanwhile, preferred to focus on his own side.
“Our goal is to win this match and it’s the only result that I would consider a positive one for us,” said Santos. “We’ll be very focused on this match and concentrated on the job we have to do.”
“Manchester United are very tough opponents, stronger than last season at least judging by their league results, but we have a good team also,” added Santos.
Benfica will again be without Rui Costa but midfielder Nuno Assis is available despite receiving ten stitches to a chin wound in the weekend match against Pacos.
Ricardo Rocha is fit again, meaning Santos must choose between him and Anderson to partner Luisao in central defence.
Quim; Alcides, Luisão, Anderson, Léo; Petit, Konstantinos Katsouranis, Nuno Assis; Paulo Jorge, Nuno Gomes, Simao.
Edwin van der Sar; Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Gabriel Heinze; Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Cristiano Ronaldo; Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha.