After an engrossing first leg in Turkey, Fenerbahce take a 1-0 victory to Lisbon and to the Estadio da Luz as they and Benfica compete for a place in the Europa League final.
Egemen Korkmaz scored the only goal of the game last week as the Yellow Canaries scored first blood in this tense semifinal. Despite eventually taking the victory, Fenerbahce may well regret not having made more of their many chances—in failing to capitalise on their dominance they may have left the door open for Benfica to stage a comeback.
Benfica Team News
The defeat was only the third in an impressive campaign for Benfica, and their first since October. They are unlikely to be fazed by their first leg defeat, and they will be confident that they can overcome the outstanding deficit.
Nonetheless, there will still be pressure on the team, who have identified the Europa League as a major target for the season. For a side that has played so well and delivered such high-quality performances throughout the year, failure to progress could have devastating consequences.
They still currently stand four points clear of Porto in the Portuguese top flight, but as has happened in the past, a demoralising cup exit can have far-reaching consequences.
The fact that the Eagles' only home defeat of the season came at the hands of Barcelona will doubtless give fans and players alike confidence, and Benfica could realistically continue their run of 13 unbeaten Europa League games at home.
There will doubtless be a terrific atmosphere at the Estadio da Luz when the two sides clash on Thursday evening. The home side will be aware that a repeat of the Istanbul scoreline would be hard for their fans to countenance, but there is a genuine belief that the Portuguese side have the ability to overcome Fenerbahce’s slender advantage.
They will be without dangerous Dutch-Liberian attacker Ola John, who is suspended, and will hope that fan favourite and Paraguayan danger-man Oscar Cardozo can make the difference between the two sides; perhaps adding to his six European strikes thus far this season, and scoring the goals that would send Benfica to Holland.
Fenerbahce Team News
Fenerbahce’s impressive away record in the Europa League this season belies the fact that the continental success of their compatriots is usually grounded upon home soil. Their record away from Turkey this season—of four wins and two draws—should give them cause for optimism as they head to Portugal.
While a high-tempo 1-0 victory was enough to give them the advantage as they departed the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, the partisan Estadio da Luz is likely to provide a test like few others they have faced this season.
Despite missing a penalty and failing to take a litany of delightful chances that were crafted by a terrifically competent midfield, Aykut Kocaman can take solace in his team’s performance. They were slightly disjointed, and have given themselves work to do, but they have a platform to build from and something to protect as they seek a spot in a first-ever continental final.
Mehmet ‘Spider’ Topal will be a major loss—often effective in a defensive midfield role, the defence are likely to be considerably more vulnerable in his absence. It will doubtless be a massive evening for Turkish international keeper Volkan Demirel who will once again need to rise to the occasion.
Cameroonian striker Pierre Webo struggled to find his rhythm in the first leg, and was ruled out of this contest after picking up a needless late yellow card. His absence will place a greater burden upon the physical prowess of Moussa Sow—the Senegalese forward has the capacity to steal the show on Thursday, and will doubtless be marshalled closely by the Benfica back line.
Despite defeat away in Turkey, the Portuguese giants will be confident of victory in their own patch, particularly considering their prowess going forward. Their sterling home record, and the disjointed attacking display of Fener in the first leg should convince Jorge Jesus’s men that triumph—and a place in the final at the Amsterdam Arena—is within their grasp.
Writing that, however, I would not be surprised to say the Turkish heavyweights advance to the final. With a decent away record and an encouraging momentum, they will be confident that they can improve on their first leg finishing and make life difficult for the Eagles.