LISBON, PORTUGAL - A place in the final of the UEFA Europa League is at stake when Benfica welcome Turkish outfit Fenerbahce to the Estádio da Luz this evening. The Turks take a slender 1-0 lead to the Portuguese capital and will be confident of progressing if they can snatch a vital away goal.
In the 90 minute match winner market Benfica are chalked up at a top price of 9/20 with Ladbrokes while the visitors, who are unbeaten away from home in Europe this season (W4 D2), are available at a bumper price of 15/2 with bet365, Betfred and Tote Sport. Finally the draw is available to back at 15/4 with several leading high street bookmakers.
At the prices quoted it's clear to see the value lies with Fenerbahce; however, they don't need to win the game to advance and this has been factored into the price.
Benfica dropped into the Europa League after finishing behind Barcelona and Celtic in their Champions League group and have seen off Leverkusen, Bordeaux and Newcastle to reach this stage. Whereas Fenerbahce began their Europa League campaign back in August and will make their first ever European final if they can edge past Benfica.
The tie couldn't be more finely balanced and the bookies agree; Betfred and Stan James cannot split either side in the "To Qualify" market and both can be backed at 10/11. However, bet365 and William Hill are weighted towards Benfica making the final - they make the hosts 8/11 to qualify.
Something has to give this evening. Benfica have an impeccable home record in Europe (P13 W12 D1), their last home defeat in Europe was against Barcelona in 2012. While Fenerbahce, as mentioned at top of the preview, are undefeated away from home in this season's competition.
Oscar Cardozo heads the first goal scorer market, the Benfica striker, who scored 30 goals in 63 European games, is chalked up at a top price of 4/1 with Coral to net first and will be popular with the punters. But I am tempted to back Dirk Kuyt to score first at a massive 14/1 with bet365 and BetVictor, the price of 4/1 with bet365 on Kuyt to score anytime also looks far too big.
Kuyt is the visitor's joint top scorer in Europe with three goals and his experience could hold the key for Fenerbahce. Kuyt also scored the first goal against Benfica in 2009/10 when wearing the red of Liverpool.
The over/under goals market holds little value. The bookmakers are anticipating a goal fest as Over 2.5 goals is a measly 4/6 with several firms. Instead I prefer the odds against price of 11/10 with Ladbrokes and BetVictor on the 2nd half seeing the most goals. Benfica have scored 8 of their 11 European goals in the second half and I expect the visitors to keep the game tight for as long as possible.
Another bet I like is Fenerbahce +1.5 goals on the asian handicap at 7/10 with bet365. I have been impressed with the Turkish side this season and cannot see them losing the game by two goals inside 90 minutes.
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus expressed his concern at his sides' fatigue as we approach the business end of the season. The Portuguese side is still fighting on all three fronts and will need a monumental effort to eliminate a determined Fenerbahce side who seem intent on making their first European final.
Last season's Champions League winners Chelsea are odds on to win the competition - a very short 4/6 with Betfred. However, the 9/2 with bet365 on Fenerbahce could look excellent value if they advance this evening.
The game kicks off at 8:05 p.m. on Thursday 2nd May 2013 and is live on ITV4.