Champions League: Benfica heavy favorite against Brugge

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 round-of-16 first leg against Club Brugge at home on Tuesday. Benfica is looking to reach the quarterfinals for a second straight season, a feat it last accomplished more than five decades ago. Last year, it was eliminated by eventual runner-up Liverpool in the final eight.

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. It didn’t lose in the group stage of the Champions League, winning the group ahead of powerhouses Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus. Benfica also comfortably leads the Portuguese league.

“At the moment, we’re having a really good season but the judgment comes at the end of the season when we see what we have achieved,” Benfica coach Roger Schmidt said on Monday. “It’s now the final straight in the league and Champions League so we have to be fully focused.”

Brugge, meanwhile, has won only twice in 11 matches since English coach Scott Parker took over in December. It plunged deeper into crisis after losing at relegation-threatened Oostende 3-0 in the Belgian league on Friday, prompting fans to ask players for explanations and Parker to acknowledge his job was in jeopardy.

“We come here with one huge challenge ahead of us, a challenge that we are relishing as a team and as a football club,” Parker said. “We’ll go and give everything we’ve got in this second leg (and) we’ll enjoy this occasion.”

The Belgian champion was one of the surprises of the group stage, finishing second to Porto and 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 2019.

Benfica, champion twice in the 1960s, 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 1968 and 1969.

Schmidt is not likely 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 are Julian Draxler, Chiquinho and Mihailo Ristic.

The coach may debut two recently signed players, Casper Tengstedt and Andreas Schjelderup.


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