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Leozinho and the Lightweight

Portuguese Lions bare teeth for Bayern

Sporting Lisbon boast a fine track record in developing raw talent. The alumni roll includes 2001 World Player of the Year Luis Figo, Paulo Futre, Sa Pinto, Simao, Ricardo Quaresma and Nani, a €30 million man when he left for Manchester United two years ago. Sporting Clube de Portugal’s current top export is Christiano Ronaldo, a Champions League winner with United last season, and the 2008 World and European Player of the Year.

The team which lines up to face Bayern at the Estádio José Alvalade on Wednesday evening will feature the usual clutch of players nurtured by Sporting’s famed youth section. Chief among them is Joao Moutinho (pictured), a 22-year-old playmaker and the youngest-ever captain in the history of the Leões (Lions). Moutinho is lovingly nicknamed Leozinho, the little lion, by his adoring home fans.

Postiga out injured

Fellow Portugal international Helder Postiga plays a similarly vital role in the Sporting team, although the potent forward definitely misses Wednesday’s encounter with a knee injury, and is already doubtful for the return two weeks later. Coach Paulo Bento also leans heavily on 23-year-old Montenegro starlet Simon Vukcevic, one of the best players in the Portuguese league at the present time.

"Bayern are a great team, with some fantastic players and a young coach with plenty of qualities. It’ll be tough, but it’s good we’re at home for the first game. It’ll be easier in front of a capacity crowd," Vukcevic commented. A full house at the Alvalade comprises just short of 45,000 spectators. As a club, Sporting rate as one of Europe’s biggest with a membership roll in excess of 100,000. Honours include 18 league titles and 15 cup triumphs, including back-to-back wins in the last two seasons. The solitary European triumph came in the Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1964. In 2005, Sporting lost the UEFA Cup final 3-1 to CSKA Moscow on their home ground.

Solid group campaign

The Lions lost twice to Barcelona in their group this season, but comfortably finished second in the section with home and away wins against both Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk. Derlei and Liedson led the way with two goals apiece – and the latter is the man FCB need to beware in the Round of 16 tie.