Champions League Returns To Parkhead
Can Benfica cope without their captain or can Celtic get off to a flyer? Only time will tell.
Benfica are optimistic of overcoming the absence of captain Luisao - banned for two months for pushing over a referee - in tonight's opening Champions League Group G game with Celtic at Parkhead. The Brazil defender was given the domestic ban for an incident with official Christian Fischer during a pre-season friendly with Fortuna Dusseldorf. Yesterday, FIFA applied the suspension worldwide, meaning Luisao will miss four Champions League games. Benfica will also be without the suspended Maxi Pereira, who was sent off in last season's quarter-final second leg with eventual champions Chelsea Even without their captain, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus believes his side can make a strong start in a group which also includes Barcelona and Spartak Moscow. Jesus said: "We are very confident. We are prepared for all conditions. The fact this has happened to Luisao is important, but we have other players. It's important to note that we focus on the game. All players have the same importance. My concern is the opposition, missing players is a secondary concern. We have conditions to use different players in different circumstances to adapt to the game. We've worked on a strategy to match any team, be that Barcelona or any other team. The last three years Benfica have been in the Champions League. We're prepared for this match and we want to try to achieve a good result.'' Celtic are back in Champions league action after missing out for the past four years. They have lost just twice in 18 home Champions League games, but Neil Lennon's side go into the game with eight points from their opening five SPL games which is their worst start to the season since 1998-99 and includes a 2-1 loss at St Johnstone on Saturday. Benfica's Jesus played down the significance of that result as the domestic and European game is rather different. Celtic plan to overcome their domestic woes by coming out fighting against Benfica. Midfielder Kris Commons said: "I always like it at 100 miles per hour from the first whistle. That's just me. When the players come out to the music and everyone is at that peak, the fans are itching for you to get that early goal and that's how I like it to be. I like to let the other team know they are in for a game in the first 10, 15 minutes. I like them to know this is the maximum noise, this is how we play, this is how we are going to pressure you or this is how we are going to settle, and let them know that they are not in for an easy night and see where the game takes us.'' Lennon recognises the boost a full house at Parkhead can provide for the home side but with some reservations. He said: "We have to be careful that we don't get picked off if we are going to press Benfica. But traditionally at home we do like to play a quick tempo. It is a quick pitch and it will be watered beforehand but that might suit both teams. I think the game will be at a fast pace. There shouldn't be any nerves, this is a competition that the players look forward to playing in, to challenge themselves against the best clubs in Europe and Benfica certainly come into that category. What I want to see is the team playing as well as they can. I want to see them express themselves, play the football that they know they are capable of and hopefully improve on Saturday's performance.''
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