Koeman future unclear after Benfica exit

April 6, 2006

LISBON, April 6 (Reuters) - Benfica coach Ronald Koeman refused to speculate on his future at the Lisbon club after they were knocked out of the Champions League quarter-finals by Barcelona on Wednesday.

Although the Dutch coach steered Benfica to their best European showing in 10 years, the Portuguese champions are only third in the domestic league, seven points behind leaders Porto, and the vast fan base is grumbling.

Barcelona went through with a 2-0 win at the Nou Camp, with goals from playmaker Ronaldinho and striker Samuel Eto'o following the goalless first leg in Lisbon.

Asked about his future at Benfica, Koeman smiled and said, 'I was expecting that question, but I'm not going to answer it,' Record sports newspaper reported.

The former Dutch international added: 'As for us, we have to think about our match next Sunday with Maritimo.

Koeman, 43, signed a two-year contract before the season's start. He replaced Giovanni Trapattoni, who oversaw Benfica's first title season since 1994 with conservative, defensive tactics but left after only a year.

Koeman opened up Benfica's attack and the approach paid off with a Champions League win over Manchester United in the group phase and home and away victories over holders Liverpool in the first knockout round.

However, Benfica have stumbled in domestic play, highlighted by an embarrassing 0-0 home draw against 10-man Naval last month and a Portuguese Cup quarter-final defeat by Vitoria Guimaraes.

The club's soccer director Jose Veiga vowed support for Koeman, telling TSF radio, 'He has still got a year to go on his contract, so he is going to stay on.'

Asked about Barcelona's chances against AC Milan in the semis, Koeman said, 'It's clear they have the capacity to eliminate AC Milan.'

'We went into the game jittery but we got better as time went by,' Koeman was quoted as saying by Record. 'In the second half, we took more risks and we had one or two chances to level.'

Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard said the game would have been different if Benfica captain Simao Sabrosa had scored with the goal at his mercy on the hour when it was only 1-0.

'Benfica came here to play the counter-attack, that's what they did,' he was quoted as saying in O Jogo newspaper.

'Fortunately, we were able to score the second goal, which let us breathe easy. If Simao had scored, it probably would have been all different.'