Benfica’s already had its redemption, having claimed the Portuguese league title, but Wednesday gives the Eagles a chance to put last spring even farther in the past. Not only will the mere chronology of the next 24 hours help, but there’s the potential to slay demons from last year’s Europa League final – a loss that came in the middle of a 16-day stretch that cost Benfica league, Europa, and Portuguese Cup titles.
Defeat Sevilla in Wednesday’s Europa League final, and last year’s loss to Chelsea gets put in a different perspective. Instead of being part of a failed spring and a list of second place finishes on the European stage, the result looks like a springboard for this year’s success. The disappointments of 2013 will have fueled the successes of 2014.
For the Rojiblancos, it’s a chance to claim the competition for the third time (UEFA Cup wins in 2006, 2007). It’s a chance to earn the team’s first trophy since 2010. It’s a chance for manager Unai Emery move on from his failures at Spartak Moscow, and it’s a chance for a team that used to compete for Champions League spots to grasp some glory in these now, more austere times.
Kickoff for Turin is at 2:45 p.m. Eastern, when Benfica returns to the site of its semifinal triumph hoping to claim its season’s second title.
How they got here: After falling out Champions League (something teams won’t be allowed to do next season), Benfica beat PAOK (Greece), Tottenham (England), AZ (Netherlands) and Juventus (Italy) on its way to the final.
Sevilla, who only qualified because Rayo Vallecano and Malaga were excluded from Europe, defeated Maribor (Slovenia), rival Real Betis (Spain), Porto (Portugal) and Valencia (Spain) after going undefeated in group play.
Who to watch for: For Benfica, former Sporting Braga striker Lima leads the way with four goals in knockout round play, though he’s only made two starts. Former Bolton attacker Rodrigo has scored three times, while Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo remains a threat, though he hasn’t scored in a month.
Emery’s dangermen are former PSG attacker Kevin Gameiro and Colombian World Cup hopeful Carlos Bacca have combined for nine goals in the competition, though Stephane Mbia’s stoppage time score against Valencia in the semifinals is Sevilla’s most memorable strike of the tournament.
Other players to know: Benfica’s defense features former Brazilian international Luisao along with Uruguyan fullback Maxi Pereira and Argentina center back Ezequiel Garay, both of whom you will see this summer. Ruben Amorim and Andre Gomes will hold down the midfield, with Nicolas Gaitan running wide of Cardozo up top.
For Sevilla, the attacking midfield of Diego Reyes, Ivan Rakitic, and Diego Perotti in support of Bacca present that danger. Mbia will destroy in midfield, while Argentinine Federico Fazio will lead the defense.
Forecast: Having knockout out Juventus, Benfica’s established themselves as favorites. We’ll see if the lessons of 2013 can be applied in 2014.