Benfica v Club Brugge
H 1.44, D 5, A 8.4
Thriving and facing an opponent in crisis, Benfica couldn’t be in a better position to keep its good run going in the Champions League.
The Portuguese side will defend a 2-0 lead from the first leg against Club Brugge at home today (Wednesday, 04:00). Benfica is looking to reach the quarterfinals of Europe’s top club competition for a second straight season, a feat it last accomplished more than five decades ago. It was eliminated by eventual runner-up Liverpool in the final eight last year.
There aren’t many teams in Europe in as good a form as Benfica, which is unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions. It has won 10 of those matches, including the last four and eight of the last nine. It didn’t lose in the group stage of the Champions League, winning its group ahead of powerhouses Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus. Benfica also comfortably leads the Portuguese league.
Brugge, meanwhile, has won only twice in 11 matches since English coach Scott Parker took over in December. It plunged deeper into crisis with a 3-0 loss at relegation-threatened Oostende in the Belgian league on Friday, prompting fans to ask players for explanations and Parker to acknowledge that his job was in jeopardy.
“Now it’s about showing character and stepping back,” Parker said. “It’s a huge challenge for everyone at the club. The players will face even greater challenges in their lives and professional careers. The important thing now is to work very hard together and do everything we can to respond.”
The Belgian champion was one of the surprises of the group stage, finishing second to Porto ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid. It made it to the knockout round for the first time in 10 attempts.
The last 45 times a team won the first leg by two or more goals on the road, only once has it failed to advance — PSG against Manchester United in 2018-19.
Benfica, the 1961 and 1962 European champion, has been eliminated after winning the first leg only three times in 31 attempts. It last made it to the quarterfinals in consecutive seasons in 1967-68 and 1968-69.
The loss to Liverpool in the first leg of last season’s quarterfinal was one of only three defeats for the Portuguese club in its last 24 European matches at home. It began this year’s competition in the third qualifying round.
Coach Roger Schmidt is not like to take any risks with some of his players who are not fully fit, including Gonçalo Guedes, who is nursing a left knee injury. Also out injured will be Julian Draxler, Chiquinho and Mihailo Ristic.
The coach may promote the debut of two recently signed players — Casper Tengstedt and Andreas Schjelderup. TALES AZZONI, MDT/AP