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Champions League

Benfica, The Powerhouse Of Portugese Football Are UCL’s Dark Horse

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 28: Benfica Supporters during the match between SL Benfica and Vitoria SC for the Portuguese Cup Final at Estadio Nacional on May 28, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

Most of the time in the UEFA Champions League, the mainstream names come to mind. Real Madrid. Barcelona. Bayern Munich. Borussia Dortmund. Juventus. Manchester United. Chelsea. Some of them are among those who argue that the Portuguese Liga is not regarded to hold its own in Europe. And yet, this was the league that helped put a certain Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro on the footballing map, his personal road to glory highly scrutinized, romanticized, glamorized, publicized, every type of ized down to size for your eyes only.

CR7’s Portuguese club is Sporting Lisbon. The Lions, as they are called, will be in the playoff round and are guaranteed a spot in European competition. A successful aggregate will allow them to join two other league opponents in the group stage. There’s FC Porto, who feature Iker Casillas and Mexico’s El Tri tandem of Jesus Corona, Miguel Layun and Hector Herrera.

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And then there’s Benfica, whose domestic trophy heist has made them a dark horse to be reckoned with in the UEFA Champions League. We, the mainstream football public discuss and debate, in colorful and passionate footballing circles, the likes of Real and Bayern and Juve and Barça and BVB and the Premier League regulars (and yes, even the lovable losers of Paris Saint-Germain) to the Champions League, but Benfica is not exactly in the mainstream conversation of relevant brands. But this club is home to a national legend before Cristiano Ronaldo’s time in Eusebio, one who was given a stately anathema fit for a deceased monarch. Indeed, there was a crown on his statue on the day of his memorial. (They are also known for this unfortunate incident that went viral.)

This year’s Benfica side, like with AS Monaco, engaged in a well-fought race with Porto and Sporting and finished six points ahead of FCP with a 25-7-2 record (82 points). While the race was close, these Eagles were flying high at the top since Round 5. That’s almost the entire season. With one of the best offenses in Portugal, Benfica scored 72 goals in league play while only allowing 18, so its defense was competent to boot. Benfica also won the 2017 Taca de Portugal, the Portuguese Cup, with a 2-1 over Vitoria de Guimaraes at the Estadio Nacional in Oeiras.

Notable players on this Benfica side include goalkeeper Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, Argentine defender Lisandro Lopez, forward Jonas, El Tri forward Raul Jimenez, Greek forward Konstantinoe Mitroglou and captain Luisao. Mitroglou led the team in goals last season with 16, while Jonas had 13 and Portuguese midfielder Pizzi added 10. Pizzi also finished the season as Benfica’s top provider with eight assists.

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Haris Seferovic will be joining the club from Eintracht Frankfurt in the offseason. Another regular, Swedish midfielder Victor Lindelof, was linked to Manchester United who have another more fancied Swede on the books in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. One of the Eagles’ many fringe players, Argentine midfielder Oscar Benitez, is on loan to Boca Juniors, who are in a tooth-and-nail race with River Plate for the Primera Division title in Argentina. Benfica also have another player on loan named Pele, who is not to be confused with the Brazilian star of yesteryear whose real name is Edison Arantes do Nascimento.

The point of the matter is Portugal’s clubs do matter, as their mixes of youth and leadership make them an attraction for the incumbent, cash rich brands of European club football. Rui Vitoria has done a tremendous job in overseeing Benfica’s run of four straight Portuguese Liga titles, four of a record 36 titles to go with four other records in 29 Portuguese Cups; seven Portuguese League Cups, or Tacas da Liga; and two different domestic double combinations (11 league and Portugese Cup doubles, four league and Portuguese League Cup doubles).

It is on these honors and their heartfelt club anthem, shown above, that makes the Eagles of Sport Lisboa e Benfica The Stoppage Time’s dark horse to make some high-flying noise at the next UEFA Champions League this coming fall.

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