With Turkish side Fenerbahce aiming to make their first appearance in the Europa League this year, they couldn't have gotten off to a better start at home on Thursday in the first leg.
Fenerbahce used a late header to take 1-0 lead back to Benfica for the second leg, playing stout defense and beating Benfica for their first loss on the ledger in Europa League play this season.
Undefeated through Europa League play , Benfica lost to Fenerbahce in Istanbul, falling victim to a stout defense and failing to keep the home side out of the net in the middle of the second half.
After commanding the ball for most of the match, Fenerbahce entered the half with a missed chance hanging over their heads.
Cristian Baroni had a chance to give the home side a 1-0 advantage with a penalty kick as time was running off in the first half, but his right-footed kick hit the left post, and Fenerbahce would have to settle for what could have been as manager Aykut Kocaman prepared his club for the second half.
He wouldn't have to wait too long for another chance to take the lead and the aggregate advantage before heading back to face Benfica's dangerous offense at home in the second leg.
Egemen Korkmaz put a header in the net off of a corner kick in the 71st minute, giving the Turkish club a 1-0 lead and a real chance to make their first-ever Europa League final with another commanding performance in the second leg of this matchup.
Fox Soccer had this post as soon as Fenerbahce took the advantage:
GOAL Fenerbache! Korkmaz's header off a corner just crosses the line. Tough break for Benfica, replays show it should have been a goal kick.— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 25, 2013
Infostrada Sports also posted about the goal, noting that teams with Korkmaz scoring in Europa League play are undefeated when he does so:
Egemen Korkmaz gives Fenerbahçe a 1-0 lead vs Benfica. He has won all 3 previous #EL matches he scored in: 2 for Besiktas and 1 for Fener.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) April 25, 2013
Benfica managed to push the ball late in the second half, but careless attempts to get the ball closer to the zone ended up killing any chance the visitors had at climbing back an extending their lose-less streak before the second leg.
Fenerbahce clearly controlled the pace and made things difficult for the Benfica defense during the entire match, while missing several chances to take a far bigger lead in the aggregate total when chances went wide and off the post.
Manager Kocaman said before the match that this showdown would be a new chapter in Fenerbahce history (h/t Europa League on Twitter):
He and the home side made sure that was possible with a win over a talented, dangerous team in Benfica that will now have to press for at least two goals at home to overcome not getting an away goal on Thursday.
Cristian Baroni, Fenerbahce: B
Baroni missed a big chance to give his club an advantage in the first half.
You could tell how much he wanted to put the penalty kick in the net, in large part because of his emotional reaction to the miss that was caught on camera in the wake of hitting the left post.
He managed to bounce back with a stronger second half, involved in several of the corner chances and ultimately setting Korkmaz up for the clinching goal. It was disappointing to see him miss out on the chance in the first half, but he did manage to get the job done and help his side take a crucial one-goal lead.
Pierre Webo, Fenerbahce: D
Webo had several nice plays throughout the evening, but his most crucial play came on one of ignorance and frustration when Fenerbahce had things under control.
Called offsides during a late chance to increase the lead to two, he foolishly kicked the ball away from the referee and into the back line, earning a booking for unsporting behavior and a subsequent suspension for the return trip.
Ian Danter of talkSport reported the news on Twitter:
Wébo suspended for Fener in 2nd leg. Not calamitous news as Caner can come back in and help protect 1 goal advantage in Lisbon #UEL— Ian Danter talkSPORT (@talkdants) April 25, 2013
To pick up a card in the final three minutes of the match is a disappointing end to the semifinals for Webo, hopefully something he doesn't do again if Fenerbahce manages to make the Europa League final. He and Topal will both miss the second leg against Benfica.
Egeman Korkmaz, Fenerbahce: A-
After missing a header early on, Korkmaz made sure his next chance at the net would not be in vain.
He rose above the outstretched arms of Artur Moraes to head home the corner kick in the 71st minute, and increased his personal record in Europa League games in which he scores to 4-0. Although he missed a chance to add another goal , he managed to get a crucial point and some confidence for Fenerbahce heading back to Benfica.
Andre Gomes, Benfica: B-
At 19 years old, Gomes was thrown into the fire in this game.
It might have been costly to the overall attack for the Benfica offense, but he performed well enough to not cost the team any chances on Thursday, and it took an unbelievable tackle from Yobo to keep him from winding up to shoot.
He came off late in the second half, replaced by Carlos Martins.
Ola John, Benfica: C
While Ola John's box penalty did not end up hurting his side, he wasn't able to push the pace enough to give his side chances to win late.
He too came off late, and will miss the return leg after the yellow card fiasco in the box.
The semi-final matchup is not over, and will commence again with a home Benfica side taking aim at getting back to their goal-scoring ways.