Benfica faces the biggest challenge of its season against Italian Serie A champion-elect Juventus in Turin and its report card suggests that it is one that it will flunk.
The UEFA Europa League semi-final tie between Benfica and Juventus stands at 2-1 to the Portuguese Primeira Liga side following the first leg in Lisbon. Benfica scored inside the first three minutes, Juventus dominated most of the game and equalised through Carlos Tevez only for the home team to snatch a late winner against the run of play thanks to Lima’s thunderbolt with six minutes left on the watch.
Defeat was harsh on Juventus but the Italian Serie A side, which requires two more points to clinch its 30th domestic title, ought to be confident of booking a place in the UEFA Europa League final that will take place at its home ground on Wednesday 14 May. The numbers point to Juventus having what it takes to overtake Benfica in the semi-final tie.
Juventus is undefeated at home this season, winning 21 and drawing the other three of its 24 Juventus Stadium matches. The only three sides to prevent Juventus from celebrating a home victory have been Galatasaray, which levelled in the 88th minute, Real Madrid, which trailed at half time, and Fiorentina, which was behind at the interval as well and ultimately crashed out of the UEFA Europa League because Juve took out the second leg at the Artemio Franchi.
While Juventus is not in the same class as the likes of Bayern Munchen and Real Madrid – it did crash out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage with no-one to blame but itself – it will be a formidable opponent for Benfica in Turin, particularly in light of the prize on offer. It is not every day that one gets the opportunity to qualify for a major UEFA final in one’s own backyard.
Benfica is seven points clear at the top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga ladder with two rounds to go so the title is done and dusted. Benfica has won its 33rd domestic crown by dropping just seven points away from home but, if one digs beneath the surface of the headline statistic, one finds reasons for Juventus to be optimistic about its chance.
The Portuguese Primeira Liga is shallow in terms of quality and it would be fair to say that Porto and Sporting are the division’s only other teams of legitimate class. Benfica has played Porto and Sporting in a total of three away matches this season for a return of two draws and one loss. Also, without wishing to be unkind, Benfica has not overproduced on the road in the various UEFA competitions. Benfica’s one away win of note was its 3-1 victory over Tottenham around the time when everything was going badly wrong for Spurs.
Betting on UEFA games is a tricky business at the best of times because of the away-goals rule and how it impacts ties. However, one cannot get away from the view that Juventus is fairly priced at odds of 1.62 with several bookmakers, including Bet365 and Betfred, to beat Benfica in the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg.
It is Valencia against Sevilla in the other UEFA Europa League semi-final tie, with the former trailing 2-0 after the first leg. The sides are meeting for the fourth time this term and their one clash at the Mestalla resulted in 3-1 Spanish Primera Division victory for Valencia. Such a result in their UEFA Europa League semi-final return would see Sevilla progress on the away-goals rule. It feels like a no-bet match so stick with backing Juventus to beat Benfica.
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