PSG set for another narrow win over Benfica

Reuters, PARIS

Wed, Oct 02, 2013 - Page 18

Although coach Laurent Blanc promised a more entertaining Paris Saint-Germain this season, the French champions have made do with narrow wins and would welcome another in today’s UEFA Champions League Group C clash against SL Benfica.

The Qatari-backed club have been far from convincing on the pitch so far, but it has not prevented them from being joint leaders in Ligue 1 and beating Olympiakos 4-1 in Greece in their opening European game.

Much was expected from an attacking line formed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, with the talented Marco Verratti or Javier Pastore playing to them from deeper in midfield, but PSG have relied on physical power, set-pieces or a lone Ibrahimovic up front.

“What we are asked to do in football is to win. We are French champions. To be champions, you have to win. We’ve been unbeaten for a while,” midfielder Blaise Matuidi said after the weekend’s victory over Toulouse.

PSG struggled to create chances in their past two games, but prevailed in both.

“I understand that people can get annoyed because we give the impression that we could play faster, but we control the play,” centerback Zoumana Camara said. “When we possess the ball, we exhaust our opponents. Then we have the quality to break a tie, notably on set-pieces.”

Young Brazilian centerback Marquinhos, who scored at Olympiakos and against Toulouse, is expected to start as captain Thiago Silva is out injured, although whether he will be paired with Alex or Frenchman Camara depends on whether his compatriot has recovered from a thigh problem.

While PSG could be missing some experience at the back, the French side are right on track compared with last season’s Europa League finalists Benfica, who head into the match in Paris after an under-par start to their domestic league.

Their usually flamboyant coach Jorge Jesus, now in his fifth season at the helm, is wary of the impact of another disappointing draw at home to promoted Os Belenenses at the weekend.

“To lose points at home is never good, but the domestic league and the Champions League are different. We would be more confident for Paris if we had won,” Jesus said.

Benfica, who beat RSC Anderlecht 2-0 in their opening Group C match, are fifth in the Portuguese league, five points off fierce rivals and leaders Porto.

Still, they will have taken heart from the second league goal scored by Paraguayan sharpshooter Oscar Cardozo, who seems to be back in form after an dreadful end to last season.

Cardozo shoved coach Jesus at the end of a painful 2-1 Portuguese Cup defeat to Vitoria SC in May and missed most of the pre-season as a punishment, but his eventual comeback has boosted Benfica’s confidence.

“We travel to Paris knowing that our opponents have enough quality to win the competition, but we also know what we are capable of. It is not the first time we play PSG and we believe in our worth,” Jesus said.

With a large contingent of Portuguese migrants living in Paris, the Lisbon club are sure to play in front of a substantial crowd of their own supporters at the Parc des Princes.

“There will be a lot of Benfica fans there, just like the last time. It will be like playing at home for us,” Benfica goalkeeper Artur Moraes told the club’s television channel.

Benfica beat PSG 3-2 on aggregate in the Europa League round-of-16 two years ago.