Jorge Jesus has backed Benfica’s decimated squad to shrug off their coronavirus woes and take a major step towards the Europa League’s last 32 with victory at Ibrox.
The Super Eagles boss has been forced to hand five youngsters plane tickets ahead of his side’s trip to Glasgow to face Rangers on Thursday night after a Covid-19 outbreak.
Darwin Nunez – who scored the Lisbon giants’ last-gasp equaliser at the Stadium of Light earlier this month – former QPR star Adel Taarabt and German midfield ace Julian Weigl have all been quarantined after testing positive.
To make matters worse, Andre Almeida, Pedrinho, Jean-Clair Todibo and Nuno Tavares are all out injured while former Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi is suspended after being sent off for his last-man foul on Ryan Kent in the 3-3 draw with Steven Gerrard’s men.
But Jesus has faith his depleted squad can do the business and secure the result that will leave them on the verge of the knock-out rounds.
The former Flamengo coach – who himself contracted coronavirus while working in Brazil back in March before returning for a second stint as Benfica boss over the summer – said: “Yes I’m always confident. Sometimes some players that we think will not be first options end up doing well when given a chance.
“Good things come from bad situations.
“I was accustomed from early in this pandemic in Brazil. I had to work with infected players and I started to know this reality.
“It is a situation that can be very complicated for many teams. You don’t know where the virus is and travel is a danger.
“We worked all week thinking about the Rangers game. We have eight players out – but when the options are less, it’s easier to work with what you have.
“But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to have difficulties, to have doubts about who to play if I had everyone thinking about who was going to start the game.”
Jesus is well warned about the risks lying in wait for him in Govan having seen domestic rivals Porto and Braga both lose there last season.
His team sit level on seven points with Rangers after three games and the 66-year-old is eager to grab the win which would mean he could give his big-name stars a breather in their final two Group D fixtures.
“A victory is very important for two reasons,” he said. “It practically guarantees qualification and guarantees that in the remaining games we can manage the team.”
Jesus has a CV to be proud of having led Benfica to 10 trophies – a club record – and also coached Flamengo to Copa Libertadores glory last year.
But he has also been impressed by Gerrard’s impact on Rangers.
“Gerrard is making a recovery for Rangers,” he said. “The team has been growing with him for three years.
“Rangers are a well-known team in Portugal. They played Braga and Porto last season. They have kept all of their best players and they have been working on aggressive system, which is not easy to stop.
“They have scored a lot of goals at home and we are prepared for difficulties defensively.
“But we are also ready to be strong attacking and it will be Rangers’ responsibility to stop us when we have the ball.”
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