Teams: SPORTING CP & Portugal NT
Sporting treating Inter with caution
Monday, 11 September 2006
by Graham Hunter from Lisbon
There was a distinct aroma of ambition and the even stronger smell of realism at the Estádio José Alvalade as Sporting Clube de Portugal prepared to return to the UEFA Champions League, against FC Internazionale Milano, after a six-year absence.
Paulo Bento's Sporting are feeling confident as they sit joint-top of the Portuguese Liga following opening wins against Boavista FC and CD Nacional. Yet the 37-year-old coach knows the Italian giants represent a far stiffer test than Sporting's domestic rivals. "Inter have a fabulous team and we have to be patient, balanced and humble in our approach," Paulo Bento said. "We must take the game to them, but there will be periods when they are on top. We must not lose our self-control at those times and will then need to reassert ourselves."
Roberto Mancini's Inter squad contains FIFA World Cup winners (Patrick Vieira, Fabio Grosso and Marco Materazzi) plus extensive UEFA Champions League experience (Olivier Dacourt, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Hernán Crespo). All those players, bar Materazzi, signed for Inter this summer and will be keen to announce their presence in Europe. They have already helped Inter lift the Italian Super Cup with a 4-3 success against AS Roma before kicking off the Serie A season with Saturday's 3-2 victory over ACF Fiorentina.
Sporting can at least take heart from the fact Inter's defence has been less than watertight. "It is unusual for an Italian team to concede five goals in two games and we will try to take advantage if they show defensive flaws," Paulo Bento said. "However, Inter also scored seven goals in winning those games so we must be very attentive in defence - particularly at set-pieces where Inter are strong."
Remarkably, the last three meetings between the sides in Lisbon all ended 0-0 - in the 1990/91 UEFA Cup, in the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League qualifiers, and last month's pre-season friendly. The Nerazzurri, despite missing weekend goalscorer Esteban Cambiasso plus Julio Cruz, Alvaro Recoba and Nicolás Burdisso through injury, and yet to record any competitive win in Portugal, will be much improved according to their ex-Sporting star Luís Figo.
Figo's coming home
"This match will be completely different from the friendly because it is vital to start well in the Champions League and our aim is to win it this season," said the veteran. "Coming back to this stadium and to my first big club is very emotional for me. But I am an Inter man now and I will play to win. Perhaps we have made some early season defensive errors in Italy but we will correct that."
Inter coach Mancini added that he would make late decisions on two key defenders. "Marco Materazzi is getting closer to fitness but I won't decide until the matchday and he won't play unless 100 per cent fit. The same goes for Fabio Grosso who was tired after the Fiorentina game. However, what is more important than who plays or what strategy I use, will be whether my team show a winning spirit."
Ricardo; Miguel Garcia, Anderson Polga, Tonel, Marco Caneira; João Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Nani; Leandro Romagnoli; Liedson, Carlos Bueno.
Francesco Toldo; Javier Zanetti, Iván Córdoba, Walter Samuel, Fabio Grosso; Patrick Vieira, Olivier Dacourt, Dejan Stanković; Luís Figo; Adriano, Zlatan Ibrahimović.
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”