Benfica seek to lift ‘curse’ in Sevilla showdown
Bela Guttman has a lot to answer for. He predicted in 1962, after leaving Benfica football club in acrimonious circumstances that they wouldn’t win another European trophy for 100 years, having twice led them to European Cup victories. Seven attempts later, they still haven’t succeeded.
The 13/10 shots take on Sevilla in the Europa League final, one year after Chelsea beat them courtesy of a late goal from Branislav Ivanovic.
It defies common sense that such a ‘curse’, as it has been labelled, exists. The late Eusebio seemed to think so, even praying in front of Guttmann’s grave before their Cup final against AC Milan.
In Jorge Jesus though, they not only have an intelligent coach but a winner. However much he has been criticised by the likes of Tim Sherwood as ‘lacking class’, perhaps his arrogance could be well justified. Anyone with the name ‘Jesus’, may have a right to think they are special; literally being the ‘gift of God’. Leading 10 000 plus Benfica fans to the first European trophy for 52-years would command a certain aura.
Built on the strong foundation of a defence that includes a dominant centre half partnership of Ezequiel Garay and Luisao, as well as full backs Maxi Perreira and Guilherme Siqueira, under Jesus’s teachings they have formed a formidable barrier. Argentine midfielders Enzo Perez and Eduardo Salvio are suspended, however.
Sevilla, at 11/5, do have the ammunition to break them down. Colombian hitman Carlos Bacca has netted 21 times this season, plus seven in his club’s run in Europe. A streak of form that has seen him linked to some of the continent’s elite, including Borussia Dortmund, who are rumoured to be preparing a swoop to replace Robert Lewandowski. Bacca is 6/1 to open the scoring, and add to his tally.
It is his expected strike partner; Kevin Gameiro that has been the form attacker in the Europa League for the club this campaign, though, with five goals. He is 2/1 to net at anytime.
Ivan Rakitic has also impressed, with the 2013/14 season being the one in which he has truly come of age. The Croatian central midfielder, with a flair for attacking, has been linked to Real Madrid recently and boasts a goal tally of three goals and assists each in the Europa League this term.
Benfica’s attack by contrast looks typically deadly. In Nico Gaitan, Rodrigo Moreno and Oscar Cardozo they have players that can, if the opportunity presents itself put the ball in the back of the net.
At 5/1 to score first, Paraguayan Cardozo is Benfica’s best hope and has scored the most European goals of any player left in the Europa League with 33 in 75 appearances.
While Sevilla do have Jairo Samperio suspended, they have Denis Cheryshev and Sebastian Cristoforo on the injury list, while there is a question mark over Vitolo, who could be hamstrung.
It will be a tense and nervy encounter, though Benfica under the guidance of Jesus will be doing all they can to lift the curse. If the past is anything to go by, it will be a minor miracle.