History is being made on Thursday when Fenerbahce, who now count former Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt among their ranks, contest their first-ever European semi-final when they welcome Newcastle United’s conquerors, Benfica, in the second of the Europa League last-four ties.
Mind you, I’m not sure ‘welcome’ is the correct word, as the atmosphere at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, intimidating at the best of times, is sure to be cranked up to a level never seen before for what manager Aykut Kocaman has called ‘the most important match of our history’.
Benfica are a club well versed in such occasions, and with a home leg to come at the Stadium of Light next week, the Portuguese side will be hopeful of setting up a date in Amsterdam next month – possibly against Chelsea.
But I don’t see this as a formality though, not by any stretch, and I think the sensible call is that the first leg ends in a draw. That outcome is 23/10 chance, and is the preference when compared to the home win at 2/1 and a Benfica victory at 13/10.
I think Benfica are the classier outfit, but 13/10 is a bit short for my liking, despite Jorge Jesus’ side’s great form this season, which has seen them create a four-point gap at the top of the Primeira Liga in Portugal, where they are currently unbeaten after 26 games.
Their away record reads 11 wins and two draws from their 13 league trips, and when you consider that Benfica have not lost a game of any description since October 23rd last year (a run of 38 games) you can’t really back them to lose here with any great confidence.
But Fenerbahce are in fine form themselves, and have only lost four of their last 25 games. In Europe, they have been especially impressive: the Turks have lost just two of their last 16 ties, and one of those was a meaningless group game in December when they were already qualified.
Three of Fenerbahce’s last six Europa League games have ended all square, and with Benfica having shared the spoils three times on their travels in Europe this season, the draw at 23/10, the biggest price on offer, looks like the shout in what is sure to be a tight affair.