Juventus will be looking to take a big step toward their first European silverware in 18 years when they take on Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.
The Lisbon giants clinched their first Portuguese title in four years on Sunday, and they will be looking to eradicate the harrowing memories of last season’s Europa League final, when they lost in the last minute to Chelsea.
After securing the Primeira Liga crown, Benfica's ever-charismatic boss, Jorge Jesus, insisted his team won't lose focus when Juve come to town, per Football Italia:
We have a fantastic group and never gave up.
We have secured our main objective of the season, but the season could finish with us being even happier than we are now.
So now, let’s postpone the celebrations and concentrate on the match with Juventus.
A positive result for Juventus in the Estadio da Luz would go a long way toward paving their passage to a final that’ll be played in front of their own supporters at the Juventus Stadium in Turin.
Last year’s heartbreaking loss at the Amsterdam Arena means that Benfica have now lost their last seven European finals and they’ll be desperate to overcome the favourites, denying Juve of a dream final in front of the Bianconeri faithful.
Ahead of this clash between arguably the two strongest teams of the four remaining semi-finalists, here’s all the information you need on where and when you can catch the game, plus a preview of each side before the first leg in Portugal.
Date: 24 April 2014
Time: 8:05 p.m. (BST)
Live Stream: ITV Player, ITV Player App
TV Info: ITV4, ITV4 HD
Back in 1962, Benfica sacked their manager, Bela Guttman, after he led Benfica to a European Cup final victory over a Real Madrid side containing Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas. Beset with anger and frustration, Guttman proclaimed that “not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever win a European Cup,” per the Stuart Fraser of the Mail Online.
Who will win the first leg?
At this juncture, 52 years on, Benfica have lost seven European finals in a row, and what has become known as the "Guttman curse" remains intact. It was never more prevalent than in last year’s final, when Benfica lost out to a late, late Chelsea goal despite dominating the game for long spells.
But if they are to fall foul in Europe once again, you suspect it’ll have more to do with the calibre of opposition they are facing, for Antonio Conte’s Juventus team are quite the formidable outfit.
At the time of writing, the Serie A title is all but sewn up—they’re eight points clear of Roma—and they are the overwhelming favourites to add the Europa League to their trophy haul.
This Benfica side have been equally as impressive in European competition this season, though. Jesus has the team playing an enterprising, enjoyable brand of football that has seen them blow plenty of quality opposition away.
In excruciatingly heartbreaking fashion, the Aguias were runners-up in three competitions last season, but that experience seems to have made them battle-hardened and hungry in this campaign. They’ve dominated the Portuguese top flight and have looked imperious in qualifying for their second consecutive Europa League semi-final.
But you have to say, Jesus and his men probably won’t have faced opposition as formidable as this Juve side in any competition this season. Nonetheless, there are plenty who expect this burgeoning Benfica outfit to give the Turin giants a real test:
Benfica will give Juventus a hard time in the semis. Crowned Portuguese champions. Luisao, Garay, Lima, Rodrigo, Gaitan, Cardozo, Markovic— Läurënt (@Sakaria_Gooner) April 21, 2014
You suspect the Estadio da Luz will be rocking for this one. The stadium has often been disappointingly littered with swathes of empty seats in the Europa League, but the Benfica faithful will do their utmost to unsettle the visitors and galvanise their own players.
The key man for the home side is Spanish forward Rodrigo. He’s been in prolific form this season, netting 15 times in all competitions, per WhoScored.com, and his versatility allows him to drift across the front line and into pockets of space all over the pitch.
Against the Italian champions and their 3-1-4-2 system, Rodrigo will be tasked with getting down the channels, between the narrow back three and in and around Juventus’ deep sitting midfield player, Andrea Pirlo.
The man dubbed as “Mozart” by the Bianconeri faithful has been typically imperious in the Europa League. Pirlo has been able to side deep and pull the strings for Juve, with the industrious, physical presences of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba giving him credible support in that midfield area.
His free-kick pedigree can also be something of a game changer, as we were witness to in the quarter-final against Lyon:
Getting to Pirlo quickly will help Benfica upset Juve’s rhythm, and that should allow them to establish a foothold in the game. The Portuguese champions simply have to take a positive result to Italy and must attack Conte’s side with quality and maturity; going to the Juventus stadium needing to win is quite the unenviable task.