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Benfica find form at right time

Published: Monday 18 April 2011, 15.02CET
Semi-finalist profile: SL Benfica's form until December was disappointing yet a superb winning run turned things around and they could win three cups including the UEFA Europa League.
by Hugo Pietra
from Lisbon

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Published: Monday 18 April 2011, 15.02CET

Benfica find form at right time

Semi-finalist profile: SL Benfica's form until December was disappointing yet a superb winning run turned things around and they could win three cups including the UEFA Europa League.

Although they endured a disappointing campaign in the UEFA Champions League this season, SL Benfica appear to have learned lessons from the experience as they have stayed unbeaten in the UEFA Europa League since then. Particularly strong at home, the Eagles have also managed to score at least once on their travels since the round of 32 and have proved formidable opponents.

UEFA club competition honours (runners-up in brackets)
• European Champion Clubs' Cup: 1961, 1962; (1963), (1965), (1968), (1988), (1990)
• UEFA Cup: (1983)

Domestic honours (most recent triumph in brackets)
• League title: 32 (2010)
• Portuguese Cup: 24 (2004)

Previous UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League semi-finals
1 (won 1, lost 0)

UEFA club ranking
17 (opponents Braga are 31st)

Leading scorer
Liga: Óscar Cardozo, Javier Saviola 9
Europe: Óscar Cardozo 4 (3 in UEFA Europa League)

Strengths and weaknesses
Benfica's strength lies in attack with the likes of Pablo Aimar, Eduardo Salvio, Nicolás Gaitán and Saviola a constant threat to opponents' defensive lines. Much of their threat stems from their overlapping full-backs: Fábio Coentrão on the left and Maxi Pereira on the right. However, the defence has shipped six goals during this UEFA Europa League run.

Key moment
PSV Eindhoven's hope turned to belief in the quarter-final second leg as Jeremain Lens ran on to an Otman Bakkal through ball and beat Roberto at the second attempt after the ball cannoned back to him off Javi García. The Eredivisie side were just one goal from turning the tie around yet Benfica captain Luisão eased the pressure when he expertly hooked Andreas Isaksson's tipped clearance in off the bar to make it 2-1 just before half-time. That goal settled Benfica, who went on to level the score on the night, and effectively seal the tie, in the second half.

Unsung hero
Argentinian international Salvio was a low-key acquisition last summer – on loan from Club Atlético de Madrid – but the winger has made decisive contributions throughout the UEFA Europa League campaign. He starred in the 2-0 win at VfB Stuttgart, scoring the first goal, and then hit two more in the 4-1 first-leg defeat of PSV. However, Salvio – the only player who can win this competition for a second year running – broke his right foot in the return at PSV and will not face SC Braga.

League position: 2 (Last five games: DWLLW)
Benfica made a miserable start to the season, losing the Portuguese Super Cup to FC Porto and three of their first four Liga matches. When they succumbed 5-0 at Porto on 7 November they seemed to have conceded the title, and a month later their UEFA Champions League challenge ended with a home defeat by FC Schalke 04. Yet the Eagles salvaged a UEFA Europa League berth and then embarked on a Portuguese record run of 18 competitive victories. If that was not enough to deny Porto the championship, Jorge Jesus's men have nonetheless reached the League Cup final, have beaten Porto 2-0 in the first leg of their Portuguese Cup semi-final and are through to the last four of the UEFA Europa League.

Killer stat
Benfica have dominated their 110 Liga meetings with Braga, winning 72 and losing only 11. At home their record is even better, losing just once in the 1954/55 season, winning 43 and drawing 11 of 55 Liga games, and triumphing in all four cup matches against Braga on home soil.

What their opponents say
Leandro Salino, Braga player:

We have two matches ahead of us and a great team to beat. We respect Benfica and I think they respect us as well. We already played them this season and we showed our quality.

Last updated: 07/12/13 4.43CET

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