Europa League preview: Fenerbahce v Benfica
By Football News
Fenerbahce head coach Aykut Kocaman will be hoping his side refocus quickly ahead of their UEFA Europa League semi-final versus Benfica.
Kocaman's team lost for the first time in 11 matches in all competitions on Sunday when they went down 2-0 away to Genclerbirligi in the Turkish Super Lig and have just four days to recover before they take on Benfica in Istanbul in their semi-final first leg.
Thursday's match will be Fenerbahce's first appearance in the final four of a European continental competition and Kocaman will be stressing the importance of winning their home leg.
In the 12 UEFA Europa League semi-final matches since the competition's name was changed from the UEFA Cup, 10 have been won by the home side, suggesting that if Fenerbahce fail to defeat Benfica at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, they will probably miss out on a spot in the final.
Fenerbahce have been led by Brazilian midfielder Cristian Baroni and Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt in their run to the last four.
Baroni, in his fourth season with Fenerbahce, has three goals and three assists in the UEFA Europa League, while Kuyt (three goals, one assist) has also been important for Kocaman's side.
Liga Sagres-leaders Benfica will head to Turkey after a 2-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the Derby de Lisboa on Sunday.
Benfica are undefeated in the UEFA Europa League this season and last lost a match at the end of February when they were knocked out of the Taca da Liga (Portuguese League Cup) on penalties by Sporting Braga.
Kocaman will need to warn his defence about Argentine midfielder Eduardo Salvio, who has scored three goals in Benfica's past four matches, including the opener against Sporting.
Meanwhile, Benfica head coach Jorge Jesus will hope his players are inspired by the only previous encounter between the Portuguese club and Fenerbahce.
In the 1975/76 European Cup, Benfica thumped Fenerbahce 7-0 in Lisbon and then held on for a 7-1 aggregate victory after a narrow defeat in the second leg in Turkey.
Jesus could also use Portugal's strong history in the past decade in this competition and its equivalents, with Porto having won it twice (2003 and 2011), while Sporting Lisbon (2005) and Braga (2011) have both finished runners-up in that period.
Benfica missed out on the 2011 final when they lost on away goals to Braga.