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.