Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Benfica Putting Big Faith in Jesus; Confidence Is High among Lisbon Locals

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Benfica Putting Big Faith in Jesus; Confidence Is High among Lisbon Locals

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Douglas Chief sports writer in Lisbon

IT is impossible to ignore: Lisbon bubbles with confidence. Benfica's local press proclaim them as the Invincibles, asserting Alan Pardew's men face a mission impossible.

Back home, bookmakers are offering odds of 8/1 on Newcastle upsetting the odds and returning from Portugal with an advantage for next week's second leg.

With a record which should provoke respect - if not fear - from Newcastle's travelling party there is no surprise Benfica feel they have a chance of progressing into the semi-finals of a competition they have realistic hopes of winning.

However, are they treating Newcastle with enough respect? Local opinion seems to be that Newcastle's lowly league position, combined with recent form that is far from threatening, means they are the weakest team left in the competition. Benfica boss Jorge Jesus cut a confident figure in his press call in the bowels of Benfica's fantastic arena.

He insists, though, United have the respect of his team, who are nursing a four-point advantage at the top of the Portuguese league.

He said: "Leagues are different, so how we are doing and how Newcastle are doing in their league will not mean too much. Europa League football is different.

"Newcastle are a very strong team, they have only lost one game in the competition.

"It will not be decided in the first leg so we need to make sure we finish the 90 minutes in a strong position.

"All teams in the quarter-finals are strong teams. There is not much between the teams at this stage, so Newcastle will be a strong team.

"In the last few years we have beaten Manchester United, Everton - so it is understandable the English are looking at us like we are a team doing well.

"What we have to do is focus on Benfica, this great team."

Olu John, an international teammate of Tim Krul, admits the Portuguese league leaders are "favourites" - but only by virtue of having the first leg in their own country.

The Dutch winger comes into a Benfica team soaring after a remarkable unbeaten run in the league.

John said: "Are we favourite? Yes, because we have the first game at home with the fans on our back, but every game brings its own challenges.

"Newcastle United is a good team.

They are a very strong team with a core of strong players. Papiss Cisse is a strong player, with a good head.

"He scored the last minute goal against Anzhi in the previous "We have to focus on him but they have 11 players who are also good."

Such is its global remit, the English Premier League will always have interest and one Portuguese reporter asked Pardew to speculate on where Benfica would finish if they were place in the top flight.

The Newcastle manager said top ten, perhaps not the answer locals were looking for. …

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