Wed, Mar 09, 2016 - Page 18 News List

Benfica to field makeshift team in Zenit fixture

Reuters, MOSCOW

SL Benfica are to field a makeshift rearguard when they travel to one of their least favorite hunting grounds to defend a 1-0 UEFA Champions League lead at Zenit St Petersburg tonight.

The Primeira Liga winners are missing three central defenders and goalkeeper Julio Cesar for the last-16 second leg at the Petrovskiy Stadium.

Luisao and Lisandro Lopez are injured, and Jardel is suspended. That leaves Victor Lindelof, who started the season as a reserve, as the only recognized central defender in the squad.

Rightback Andre Almeida is also banned, while Julio Cesar is to be replaced by fellow Brazilian Ederson because of a thigh injury.

Benfica’s record of one win, two draws and four defeats in seven visits to Russia hardly augurs well either. Their only victory came 20 years ago when they beat Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 in the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.

However, coach Rui Vitoria is buoyed by Saturday’s 1-0 triumph at Sporting Lisbon that sent his side to the top of the Portuguese league ahead of their neighbors.

“It is always better to work from the base of a win,” Vitoria said.

Benfica have notched 13 victories in 14 matches this year, with only a league defeat against archrivals Porto interrupting the sequence.

Vitoria has no worries in attack, where striker Jonas has scored 28 goals in 35 games in all competitions and is enjoying the best season of his career at the age of 31.

Zenit boss Andre Villas-Boas, who faced Benfica seven times as coach of Portuguese rivals Academica Coimbra and Porto, said the supporters could lift his side to victory and a first-ever quarter-final place.

“We have the advantage going into the return leg — by this I mean our supporters,” the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur coach said. “I am sure the stadium will be packed and they will create an atmosphere that will help the team to a new level.”

“We are sure we can overcome the deficit,” he added. “Reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League is our dream and this could be a very important event for Russian football.”

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