Despite a first-leg defeat to Inter, Benfica fan reporter Fabio Barreiros revelled in the opportunity to see his team in the flesh in Lisbon
Lisbon, my home away from home. I left an overcast London with nothing but a backpack, my friend and fellow Benfica fan Luis, and his matchday mascot Tino the octopus (a stuffed toy named after our defensive midfielder Florentino Luís). We headed to Lisbon with hope, the same hope we travelled to Anfield with last season. As the Portuguese proverb goes, “Hope is always the last thing to die.”
Lisbon greets us as only Lisbon knows how, with its sunny warmth and historic charm. We head to the Estádio da Luz which, like the city it stands on, has borne witness to every nuance that the beautiful game has to offer.
The Luz – or the Cathedral, as we call it – knows how to put on a show. A red sea of fans congregates outside five hours before kick-off as the food trailers turn on the generators. There always has been and always will be a burning desire for bifanas (pork-steak sandwiches) from both the home and away fans. Likewise, the trolley vendors set their coals alight for roasting chestnuts and the matchday perfume infiltrates the air around us.
Among the chants, whistles and flares, fans debate their preferred line-ups and score predictions in a myriad of different languages. Benfiquistas have travelled from every corner of the globe to be here, and they make sure the world knows as they proudly display their flags (Canadian, French and Angolan to name a few). They’re confident we’ll get the job done and take a positive result to the San Siro. But despite their confidence they are counting their blessings, for a presence in the quarter-finals is not something we’re accustomed to even though we were here last season. We’ve endured spells of Champions League knockout-stage famine in recent history, therefore we are soaking up as much as we can.
This season our style of play has been different and it has sparked an unusual feeling among the younger generation of fans – a sensation we haven’t felt in the best part of ten years. This is not only due to Roger Schmidt’s high-pressing style of football, but also thanks to club legend Rui Costa being at the helm of a rejuvenated board with his modern, Eurocentric approach to running a football club. Finally we have silverware ambitions beyond our domestic borders.
“If you love football, you love Benfica,” said Roger Schmidt upon arriving at Lisbon airport on his first day in charge of the club. This confidence has been perfectly justified by our stellar performances in the Champions League this season and I, for one, travelled to Lisbon expecting nothing less than an emphatic Benfica display. And even though things did not go to plan this time around, the character we’ve shown this season is enough forme to trust that we will honour the badge and honour football in the second leg; as Benfica fans, this is all we can ask for. Bring on the San Siro.