One of my favourite narratives in football is that of Bela Guttmann and the Hungarian curse. Having won two European Cups with Benfica, the legendary manager departed the club in acrimonious circumstances, having disputed with officials over a proposed pay rise. The rumour suggests that before leaving his post for good, the influential boss is alleged to have knelt on the hallowed turf of the original Estadio da Luz and cried “Not for a hundred years will Benfica win the European Cup”.
While the Portuguese side battled manfully against Fener, and against a partisan home crowd, they struggled to threaten effectively, and, ignoring a late effort from substitute Nicolas Gaitan, rarely looked like securing an away goal.
While Benfica will still have a significant say in the outcome of this tie, a potential place in the final will only be a small step towards the glory days of the Guttmann era.
It was poignant that the last time these two clubs met was back in 1975, in the Portuguese club’s first game since the departure of club icon Eusebio. Benfica are unlikely to replicate the 7-0 victory they achieved nearly 40 years ago in the second leg, and they appear a significant distance away from the glory days of the pre-Curse years.
The Fallen Giants may be on the rise, and currently topping the Portuguese ZON Sagres Primeira Liga, but it will be some time before they are once again challenging at the pinnacle of continental competition.