Naples (Italy) (AFP) – Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar said he will be looking to put bad memories of previous visits to the San Paolo behind him when Benfica face Napoli in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The 37-year-old spent “seven beautiful and successful” years with Serie A giants Inter Milan, helping them to Champions League glory with a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the 2010 final.
In that time, his visits to Napoli usually ended with a draw or defeat, although in a 3-0 reverse at the San Paolo in October 2011 he notably saved a Marek Hamsik penalty.
He is now with Benfica and he said his side are ready to get their Group B campaign up and running with a first win after an opening 1-1 draw at home to Besiktas.
“My memories (of the San Paolo) are not the best ones, but tomorrow (Wednesday) we can win. It would be my first win at the San Paolo,” Julio Cesar told media at the stadium on Tuesday.
He is still considered a living legend by Inter fans, but on the day of Francesco Totti’s 40th birthday the ‘keeper was reminded, by his son, of the Roma veteran’s prowess.
“Totti’s a champion, I’ve played a lot of times against him,” he added.
“I want to wish him a happy 40th birthday. Yesterday my son was looking on social media and showed me a goal Totti scored against me in my first year in Italy.
“It was the most beautiful goal I’ve ever conceded in my career.”
Julio Cesar, who is battling fellow goalkeeper Paulo Lopes for the starting jersey on Wednesday, will be hoping to avoid similar setbacks, and Benfica fans have reason to believe in an upset.
Rui Vitoria’s men gave Bayern Munich a fright in last season’s quarter-finals before the Germans secured their last-four ticket thanks to a 3-2 aggregate win.
Benfica’s 1-0 first-leg loss in that fixture was their last defeat of any kind. They are now 17 matches unbeaten in all competitions.
“They are a top European side who gave Bayern (Munich) a scare last season,” said Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri.
If Napoli fans are hoping for the intimidating San Paolo to play a role, Vitoria told them to think again.
“We’re used to it because our stadium is an intense atmosphere as well,” said the Benfica coach.
“We know we’re on hostile territory, but these games are all about taking opportunities.”
Instead, Vitoria — who led Benfica to their third successive league title in his first season in charge — will be focused on trying to overcome Napoli’s all-round “dynamic” game.
“I like Napoli a lot, they have a really good style of play,” added Vitoria.
“They’re very dynamic. Their 4-3-3 is very versatile and when they press up high it makes like difficult for their opponents.
“We’ll have to focus on our own qualities and keep the concentration levels high. The team who makes the least mistakes will win.”
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