Paulo Bento is confident his Sporting side will not let nerves get the better of them in their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie against Bayern Munich.
Sporting have progressed beyond the group stage for the first time, while four-time European champions Bayern have returned to the knockout rounds after missing out last year. Nonetheless, Bento’s men are full of belief after Saturday’s thrilling 3-2 win against Benfica brought them back into the race for the Portuguese title.
“The squad is mature now,” he insisted. “We have to show that we’ve evolved, and getting to the quarter-finals would do that. We have two objectives – to get to first place in the Liga and to go as far as possible in the Champions League. We know that it will be difficult, so we have to take it step by step. The first step is this tie.”
With Sporting having failed to beat a German team in 14 attempts in UEFA competition, Bento is realistic about the task at hand.
“For a number of reasons, Bayern are clear favourites,” he conceded. “They are a very well-organised team and well-balanced, so we have to be organised and, above all, enjoy the game.”
Bento, who will replace the injured Hélder Postiga (knee) with Derlei up front while the experienced Abel may be preferred to Pedro Silva at right-back, said a first victory over Bundesliga opposition is not his primary concern: “The main objective is to go through. If we can do that without winning either game outright, then fine.”
Bayern coach Jurgen Klinsmann is not reading too much into the past either.
“We have a lot of respect for them, they are very good at bringing young players through,” he said.
Bayern have lost three out of four Bundesliga matches since the resumption from the winter break, but Klinsmann thinks his players can put things right at the Estádio José Alvalade.
“It’s always important to find the right balance between defence and attack. We haven’t managed that yet in the Bundesliga, but we have done it quite well in the Champions League,” he said.
“We’re excited about this game, about restarting our campaign after a long break.”
Indeed, the former Germany coach, who hopes Luca Toni will be fit to start after recovering from an achilles problem, reckons this game is just the sort of occasion to bring the best out of his players.
“It’s difficult for the players to be 100 per cent every time, but I’m confident we will be at our best here,” he added. “We know how to make the most of these kind of opportunities.”