Fenerbahçe clashes with Benfica in bid for maiden European final
Defender Egemen Korkmaz (2R) scores the header that gives Fenerbahçe a valuable 1-0 victory over Benfica in the Europa League semifinal first leg. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜRELFenerbahçe plays Benfica in a historic semifinal second leg game tonight, seeking a ticket to the Europa League final in Amsterdam.
The Turkish team, bidding to become the second Turkish side to win a European trophy after their arch-rivals Galatasaray lifted the UEFA Cup in 2000 will try to defend its one-goal advantage against a solid Benfica side at the Estadio da Luz.
In the other semifinal, English giant Chelsea has the advantage to overcome Basel after winning 2-1 in Switzerland last week.
Last year’s Champions League winner Chelsea is likely to grab the ticket for the May 15 final, but for Benfica and Fenerbahçe, the tie is still open.
“We are carrying a 51 percent advantage to Lisbon,” Fenerbahçe coach Aykut Kocaman said after last week’s 1-0 win at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium.
On April 25, a late goal by defender Egemen Korkmaz gave the edge to Fenerbahçe, who could have won by a bigger margin. Midfielder Cristian Baroni had a penalty kick coming off the side bar, while forwards Moussa Sow and Dirk Kuyt also had efforts denied by the post.
Fenerbahçe is still competing for three trophies, the Europa League, the Turkish Cup and Super League, but the prospect of winning a maiden continental title looks as the biggest target for the club. The Yellow Canaries are seven points behind Galatasaray in the league and are almost certain to lose the championship to their archrivals, who will retain their title with a win in the last three weeks.
Kocaman gave his first team players a rest against Kayserispor in the league game on April 28. Players who competed against Benfica did not start against Kayserispor and aces like Kuyt and Sow were only brought on after the team entered half-time one goal down. Kuyt and Baroni scored to give Fenerbahçe a 2-1 win.
Benfica is also coping with problems of playing too many games.
“Fatigue is our problem. We are fighting on all fronts,” coach Jorge Jesus said.
The Eagles played with a rotated squad last week, and paid the price with the defeat, but they had a rousing 2-1 league win at Maritimo on April 29, keeping them four points clear at the top with three matches to play.
Coach Jesus is likely to opt for the in-form Argentine duo of Enzo Perez and Nicolas Gaitan in midfield to help break down Fenerbahçe after a surprising punt on rarely picked 33-year-old playmaker Pablo Aimar and teenager Andre Gomes did not pay off in the first leg.
Although Dutch winger Ola John is suspended this time, the Eagles fancy their chances in front of their fans.
Uruguay right back Maxi Pereira said, “Benfica have overturned worse results. We strongly believe we can reach the final.”
Fener will be without suspended midfielder Mehmet Topal and striker Pierre Webo along with injured midfielder Raul Meireles.
In London, Chelsea, the outgoing European Champions, will be playing its 11th match in 33 days against the Swiss champion.
Murat Yakın’s Basel is attempting to become the first Swiss team to reach a European final.
“It’s nice to win domestic leagues and cups but to qualify for the semifinals of the Europa League is fantastic,” said Yakın, a former Fenerbahçe player.