Atletico coach wary of Lisbon threat

Atletico have had a largely miserable Primera Division campaign,
with 10 defeats in 25 games leaving them down in 10th and closer to
the relegation zone than the Champions League places, but it has
been a different story in the cups. They have reached the Copa del
Rey final for the first time since 2000, where they will play
Sevilla, while in the Europa League they bounced back from a
miserable performance in the Champions League group stage by
dumping out Turkish giants Galatasaray in the last 32. Portuguese
side Sporting will provide another firm examination for Atletico,
though, as they make the short hop across to the Spanish capital in
fine form, having recorded convincing victories in their last three
games against Everton (3-0), Porto (3-0) and Belenenses (4-0).
Striker Liedson scored all four goals in the second half of
Sunday’s win over Belenenses. Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores
should know plenty about Sporting having been in charge of their
city rivals Benfica prior to taking up the reins of the Rojiblancos
late last year, and he said of Thursday’s clash: “The tie is going
to be very tough because it’s between two high-level teams.
“Sporting did not have a good start to season, but recently they
have been getting good results. Their players will be very
motivated to get a good result at the Vicente Calderon. “Sporting
have been the second best team in Portugal in the last few years.
They’ve shown they work very well collectively and it’s that which
concerns me more than the individuals.” Atletico warmed up for the
match with a 1-1 draw at Real Zaragoza on Sunday, youngster
Ibrahima Balde heading home an injury-time equaliser to salvage a
point for the capital club. Sporting booked their spot in the last
16 after recovering from a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Everton to
progress 4-2 on aggregate thanks to three goals in the final 25
minutes of the return leg. Coach Carlos Carvalhal looks set to have
almost a full-strength squad to choose from, with the only
absentees from yesterday’s final training session being injured duo
Daniel Carrico and Yannick Djalo. Striker Florent Sinama Pongolle
is also ineligible to face his former club having represented
Atletico in Europe before Christmas.