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Europa League preview: Benfica v Fenerbahce

Benfica’s home form could get them across the line in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League semi-final versus Fenerbahce.

Although Fenerbahce enter Thursday’s match at the Estadio da Luz with a 1-0 lead, following their triumph in Istanbul last week, Benfica will have plenty of confidence at their home stadium as they have lost there just once all season.

Barcelona defeated Benfica in the UEFA Champions League’s group stage in October, but the leaders of Portugal’s Liga Sagres have only missed out on victory on three other occasions, with draws against Sporting Braga, Porto and Pacos de Ferreira.

Benfica’s impressive home record extends even further in the Europa League as the Lisbon-based club have not lost in 14 matches, with their last defeat coming at the hands of Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv in December 2008.

But Fenerbahce will hold out hope they can catch their hosts on the break at the Estadio da Luz, as Benfica have only kept two clean sheets at home in continental competition in 2012-13.

Because of his team’s frail defensive record in Europe this season, Benfica head coach Jorge Jesus is likely to rely on his squad’s attacking strengths.

Oscar Cardozo and Ola John have been Jesus’ leading marksmen in Europe this campaign.

Paraguay’s Cardozo has scored six goals and produced two assists, while his Dutch team-mate has struck twice and set up another two goals.

Fenerbahce won last week’s first leg thanks to Egemen Korkmaz’s header in the 72nd minute, but the Turkish club could have taken an even larger lead to Portugal had Moussa Sow, Cristian Baroni and Dirk Kuyt scored instead of hitting the woodwork.

Baroni’s miss was particularly glaring, as the Brazilian midfielder cracked his penalty onto the post in first-half stoppage time, while for Benfica, Nicolas Gaitan also clipped the woodwork in the second half.

Benfica bounced back from that loss with a 2-1 win away to Maritimo on Monday to move within a win of wrapping up the Liga Sagres title, while Fenerbahce defeated Kayserispor 2-1, with Baroni converting an 89th-minute penalty to clinch victory.

Baroni has been crucial to Fenerbahce head coach Aykut Kocaman this season with the 29-year-old playmaker having scored 11 goals and created another 10 in all competitions.

The winner of the two-legged semi-final will face either Chelsea or FC Basel in the Europa League final at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15.

Tue 30 April, 2013
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