Atletico coach wary of Lisbon threat

Atletico Madrid continue their quest for a cup double when they

host Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their Europa League

last-16 tie.

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.