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Missing Fenerbahce men should aid Benfica Europa League final quest

Few can have foreseen such an anaemic performance from Benfica in Istanbul, where they were dominated by a Fenerbahce side value for more than the 1-0 lead with which they arrive in Lisbon. However Benfica’s record at Estadio da Luz is so strong that Fener could be left ruing those missed opportunities and the Portuguese side can be backed at 1/1 to qualify for the Europa League final with Coral.

Benfica’s 29 game unbeaten run came to an end at Şükrü Saracoğlu in a match in which they were second best, but after their hosts missed a penalty and rattled the woodwork twice more they find themselves in a far from hopeless position in the tie at 1-0 down.

Jorge Jesus’ men have lost just once at home all season – to Barcelona – and only Porto and Chelsea triumphed at Estadio da Luz in the previous campaign. Their fans are near guaranteed goals too – Benfica have scored the minimum two goals they need to secure qualification in all but three of their 16 home outings this term.

Fenerbahce have a tasted defeat just once in eight 2012/13 European away ties, but a commitment to defensive rigour has meant their goal-threat is limited. They’ve nicked more than a single goal in just two of those matches, with one of the better scoring outings against Romanian also-rans FC Vaslui.

Nonetheless a tight contest is in the offing and a Benfica clean sheet is likely to be central their qualification chances. The Lisbon outfit have shipped more than a single goal just once – to Liga Sagres title-rivals Porto – in their last 15 home games, with nine of those won to-nil – it’s 11/10 that record a shutout success against Fener.

Benfica will aided in their quest to undo the visitors undoubtedly stubborn resistance by suspension and injury, with influential Fenerbahce midfielders Raul Meireles and Mehmet Topal unavailable. Aykut Kocoman’s side have lost just twice this term in the 21 games that the pair have started together in midfield, but six of the 23 in which one or the other has been absent.

Topal who acts as the shield in front of the Turks’ defence will be a particularly big loss – his side have lost five of the 11 games in which Örümcek (the Spider) did not feature. With Fener robbed of his presence, the 4/9 about Benfica getting the 2 or more goals they need to proceed to the Europa League final looks all the more attractive.