Jonas readies Benfica for Zenit ordeal

5 Mar

Having scored Benfica’s added-time winner in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg against Zenit, Brazilian forward Jonas sat down to tell how much performing well in the competition means to the Portuguese club and its players. How important is it for you to play UEFA Champions League football?

Jonas: For me it’s the greatest competition in Europe. It has a different vibe than the others. For a player, it’s important to play in this competition. It’s a competition everyone wants to play in – the whole world watches it and it’s a privilege to play in it. When I was young I always watched it on TV, particularly the matches where there were Brazilians playing, like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo … How would you describe your role in this Benfica team?

Jonas: My role, and that of all the players, is to perform well in this competition and do our jobs properly. Getting to the quarter-finals would be a big achievement for us – not just the players but also the club. We had a lot of success in the group stage and achieved our objective, because from the start of the season we had the target of getting through to the knockout phase.

Watch Jonas’s last-gasp winner You got to the round of 16 with Valencia in 2013; can this Benfica side do better?

Jonas: In that season at Valencia we had a great side, but we ended up playing Paris Saint-Germain, who had just put together that team with big players and a lot of investment. We played two good matches – we lost 2-1 at home and drew 1-1 away – but we stood up to them. This tie against Zenit with Benfica is much more even.

Zenit have been playing some good football, they always do well in their league, and in the Champions League they had a good group stage. I hope we can go through. We have a better chance now than back then with Valencia. What does UEFA Champions League success mean to a club like Benfica?

Witsel and Garay exclusive: Zenit’s inside track on Benfica

Jonas: Everyone knows the financial factor is important for the club – and also the profile the competition gives you. Benfica want to do well in every competition and the Champions League is no different. The goal we set at the start of the season was to get through the group stage, and then take it match by match. We’ve reached our target and now we have to continue. Who knows, maybe we can cause a surprise and get through to the next round. Does knockout football demand a different mentality?

Jonas: Yes, because now it’s kill or be killed. It’s different from playing six matches in the group stage – it’s only two games and you can’t let your guard down because that can cost you qualification. You need to double your focus. The away leg against Zenit will be very difficult, especially because of the weather conditions, which can affect things a bit. They’re used to cold weather, we are not. So lots of difficulties!


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