What: Europa League Semi-final (First leg)
Who: Fenerbahce vs Benfica
When: Thursday 25th April, 2013, at 20:05 UK Time
Where: Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey
Eyes On The Prize
Like Basel, Fenerbahce will bask in their first ever European semi-final appearance during the two games to come. After a hard-fought aggregate win over Lazio, Aykut Kocaman’s side are now preparing for the arrival of red-hot Benfica to the Sukru Saracoglu. Fenerbahce have a mixed record against Portuguese opposition, but no matter what they will want to avoid history repeating itself with regard to the two clubs’ only previous encounter. That was a 7-1 pasting at the hands of Benfica in a European Cup two-legged tie back in 1975.
Surely matters will be closer this time around, but Benfica will need to be held in check in Turkey to start. There will certainly be a hot atmosphere inside the stadium and Fenerbahce will want to have a repeat of their 2-0 home win over Lazio in the previous round. That sort of result set them up for the return leg, where Lazio did take the lead, but a second-half goal sealed progression for the Turks.
Advancing to the final four of the Europa League represents another achievement for this side under Kocaman. Installed as manager in 2010, he duly led to the club to a league title that season and a Turkish Cup triumph the following campaign. A former striker for the club in an eight-year spell (1988-1996) that included two league titles, Kocaman has added to his reputation this season by steering the Yellow Canaries to the brink of European glory. They may still have three matches to navigate to achieve that lofty goal, but supporters will hope that the magic on the continental stage can continue.
Chasing The Nearly Perfect Season
A 2-0 derby win over Sporting Lisbon at the weekend only underlined what many are already thinking, that this current Benfica side are quite special. Undefeated in Portugal this season, Jorge Jesus’ side simply seem like they cannot lose at the moment, having last tasted defeat in the Champions League back in October. Newcastle came close to beating them in the last round, but yet another late goal saw Benfica peg the Magpies back to draw on the night.
Rivals FC Porto are also undefeated in the league, but their fantastic season has been overshadowed by Benfica’s amazing run which sees them with a four-point lead at the top of the table. After holding on to their advantage domestically, the Portuguese side will now turn their attention back to Europe. The trip to Turkey will not be easy, but for a team that has scored well over 100 goals this season there will be little fear of getting a result. The quality and belief is there for Benfica, the only question now is whether the club will tire battling for three different trophies as they are also in the final of the Portuguese Cup.
It would be a shame if the Eagles’ season were derailed due to fatigue, but with so many matches in such a short period of time from now until the end of the campaign that is a possibility. The fact remains though that Benfica hold their destiny in their own hands and if they can keep up their current form, the Lisbon side will celebrate one of their greatest ever seasons.
Lazio 1-1 Fenerbahce (11/04; Europa League)
Fenerbahce 1-0 Eskisehirspor (14/04; Turkish Super Lig)
Genclerbirligi 2-0 Fenerbahce (21/04; Turkish Super Lig)
Olhanense 0-2 Benfica (07/04; Portuguese Liga)
Newcastle 1-1 Benfica (11/04; Europa League)
Benfica 2-0 Sporting Lisbon (21/04; Portuguese Liga)
Benfica: Luisao; Enzo Perez
Players to watch
Fenerbahce – Raul Meireles: The 30-year-old Portuguese international has decided to fan the flames ahead of the clash with Benfica by insisting that his former side Porto are still Portugal’s best. The part-combative part-creative midfielder has enjoyed a solid start to life in Turkish football. Though the goals may have dried up in recent years, Meireles is still a force in the middle of the park for both club and country. He would surely like nothing more than finding his scoring touch against his old bitter rivals.
Benfica – Lima: The Brazilian may have come to Europe somewhat late at 26; however in the last three years he has shown that he is nowhere near his sell by date. In fact, Lima has improved every season since joining Belenenses in 2009. Though they were relegated, he was impressive enough to earn a move to Braga where he continued banging in the goals in two seasons with the club. At the beginning of the current campaign, Benfica came calling and he has been superb in his first season having scored 26 times in 42 matches to date.
Fenerbahce like to keep things tight and will have to when facing a Benfica side that score goals by the bundle. The first leg is especially important for the Turkish club as it would seem difficult to see them progressing without a home win. Against arguably one of the hottest teams in Europe, Fenerbahce will need to maximise their home advantage for a good result. But Benfica have so much firepower it appears unlikely that they will not manage at least one away goal to take back to Portugal. Fenerbahce 1-1 Benfica.
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