Former Portuguese international Rui Costa urged SL Benfica to "put the cherry on the cake" as he digested a mouth-watering UEFA Europa League semi-final against Fenerbahçe SK.
The contrast in pedigree between these teams is stark. As the Turkish side gear up for their maiden last-four fixture, the Lisbon outfit – two-time European champions – approach the tie from a firm grounding of 12 previous semi-finals and eight wins. They lost the last of those two seasons ago to domestic rivals SC Braga, so Rui Costa is eager to avoid making it unlucky 13.
"It's our second semi-final in three years," the Benfica director underlined. "We are growing and improving. We are happy to be here but we want more: our goal is to reach the final. Benfica have not participated in a European final for many years and we believe the wait could be about to end. It would be a great honour for me to see Benfica in a European final."
Rui Costa was serving his apprenticeship in the Eagles' academy when they reached their last showpiece 23 years ago, a 1-0 European Champion Clubs' Cup defeat by AC Milan. Fenerbahçe had been knocked out in the first round. Indeed, they are unfamiliar with the later stages of international competition, finally breaking through the quarter-final barrier this term at the third time of asking, seeing off the hitherto unbeaten S.S. Lazio.
The Istanbul club's progress has not gone unnoticed – this is not the same team that lost 7-1 on aggregate in the sides' only previous meeting in the 1975/76 European Cup first round. "They have a great team," said Rui Costa. "We don't have experience of playing Fenerbahçe but we know their merits. They just got the better of Lazio, an excellent team, so it will be a difficult match. We know how difficult it will be to go and play in Turkey, but I believe they will have similar problems at our place."
Fenerbahçe midfielder Emre Belözoğlu is certainly steeling himself for a tough journey to a possible final on 15 May. "I don't agree with those who say 'at this stage it does not matter who you draw' – Benfica were the most difficult side we could have been paired with," he said. "It's not an easy draw but we have eliminated some good teams to get here. The road to Amsterdam is clear."
Fenerbahçe CEO Hasan Hakkı Yılmaz spoke of a desire to "write a new chapter in our history" before the end of the campaign, an ambition echoed by Rui Costa across the divide. "I think we have played well until now, with a lot of dynamism and quality. Now we need to put the cherry on the cake and reach the final. That's one of our objectives: to win another European competition."
17/09/1975, European Cup first round: Benfica 7-0 Fenerbahçe (Shéu 22, Nené 33 43 72, Rui Jordão 60 75 84)
01/10/1975, 1975/76 European Cup first round: Fenerbahçe 1-0 Benfica (Verel 75)
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