Fenerbahce v Benfica, Thursday, 8.05pm, Live on ITV4
Match odds: Fener 3.05, Benfica 2.6, the draw 3.4
FENERBAHCE have ventured into uncharted waters as this is the first time the Turkish giants have reached the last four of a major European competition.
Their run has been largely based on gritty, determined defending – Fener have kept seven clean sheets in the Europa League this season and no other team has kept more since the start of the group stage. In all competitions, Fener have produced nine shut-outs in their last-16 matches.
Aykut Kocaman’s men have suffered just one defeat in 12 Europa League games and that was a dead rubber against Borussia Monchengladbach at the end of the group stage.
Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Genclerbirligi in the Turkish Super Lig was Fener’s first reverse since March 3 and they have only lost three games in 2013. Fener like to keep games tight – only one of their knockout stage matches has been decided by more than one goa, and that was a 2-0 win over Lazio that was secured with a Dirk Kuyt strike in stoppage time.
If Fener are tough to beat, Benfica are even more sturdy. The Portuguese league leaders have put together a 29-match unbeaten run and haven’t tasted defeat since a 2-1 Champions League reverse at Spartak Moscow in late October.
Jorge Jesus and his players have shown they can dig out results at intimidating venues – the Eagles managed 0-0 draws away to Celtic and Barcelona in the Champions League and have won away to Bayer Leverkusen and Bordeaux in the Europa League.
When they were under extreme pressure at Newcastle, Benfica not only kept the Magpies at arms’ length but scored an excellent counter-attack goal late on to draw 1-1 and progress 4-2 on aggregate.
Fener have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the match although midfielder Caner Erkin (who scored the decisive goal in the Lazio tie) is suspended.
Benfica have personnel problems through injury and suspension – centre-back and captain Luisao picked up a knock at the weekend and hasn’t travelled to Turkey while Andre Almeida and Enzo Perez are both suspended after picking up bookings against Newcastle.
The bet that stands out for me is backing under 2.5 goals at 1.82. All six of Fener’s Europa League knockout games have featured under 2.5 goals as have seven of Benfica’s 12 European matches this term.
I expect both teams to adopt a patient approach – Benfica have scored eight of their 11 Europa League goals after half-time while four of Fener’s six knockout matches have been goalless at the break. On that basis, I would back the draw in the half-time market at 2.14.
Back under 2.5 goals at 1.82
Back the draw in the half-time market at 2.14