Whatever Eduardo Salvio thought when as a 19-year-old he left the club he had grown up at in Argentina, CA Lanús, for Europe, earning the soubriquet 'Mr Europa League' probably did not occur.
Signing for Club Atlético de Madrid in January 2010, he soon made his competition debut against Galatasaray AŞ as the Spanish side won the former UEFA Cup in the first season since its revamp. Two years later, now a regular, Salvio helped Atlético reclaim the trophy and then made a club record €13.5m move to SL Benfica, who in a loan spell he had helped to the 2010/11 semis and then last term aided to the final.
Salvio's 38 appearances in the UEFA Europa League proper are the most by anyone since the competition launch in 2009, but his tournament prowess was far from his mind at the start of this campaign. Benfica were in the UEFA Champions League, though the 23-year-old winger himself was sidelined by a serious knee injury suffered in late August.
However, in February everything changed. Benfica made the transition to the UEFA Europa League and – just as actors say an illness disappears when they get on stage – Salvio returned earlier than expected, introduced 15 minutes from the end of the round of 32 first leg at PAOK FC. Three more outings have followed, taking him back ahead of Ola Toivonen in the UEFA Europa League table, the Sweden forward having overhauled Salvio in the group stage before leaving eliminated PSV Eindhoven.
Most notably, Salvio got the only goal of last Thursday's quarter-final first-leg win at AZ Alkmaar, and the relief poured out on Twitter: "Thanks for all the support. I almost cried ..." The Portuguese media heaped him with praise, with A Bola describing the five-times Argentinian international as "Benfica's European talisman" and O Jogo noting that "Salvio holds the trump card in the Europa League".
Benfica now host AZ on Thursday looking likely to maintain Salvio's record of reaching at least the semi-finals in all five UEFA Europa League seasons. Benfica's form – and his – suggests a fourth final and third winners' medal may also be in Salvio's grasp.
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