Cursed club, Everton and the Copa Libertadores coach: Lowdown on Rangers' Europa League opponents Benfica
Rangers travel to the Stadium of Light in Lisbon on Thursday hoping to dazzle latest Europa League opponents Benfica and build on their impressive start to Group D, which has so far seen both Standard Liege and Lech Poznan defeated.
Here’s the lowdown on the latest team to face Steven Gerrard’s side and on their return to Portugal – scene of two successes over Porto and Braga in last year’s competition.
Things had been looking ominous for Rangers before the Eagles suffered a shock defeat away to Boavista on Monday night. They kicked off the new season with a disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of PAOK Salonika in Greece but responded to that setback by stringing together seven straight wins. But a full-strength Benfica line-up were brought crashing back to earth by the Panthers as they lost 3-0 in Oporto earlier this week.
Benfica became the first team other than Real Madrid to lift the European Cup with their back-to-back triumphs of 1961 and 1962. But the club were famously cursed when they sacked the man who had led them to that historic double. Hungarian boss Bela Guttmann professed: "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion" - and so far he has proved right. The Reds have appeared in five European Cup finals and three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals since then - failing to win any of them. This will be Benfica's first ever showdown with Rangers but they have faced Scottish opposition on 10 previous occasions, including three defeats to Celtic.
Former Barcelona youngster Alejandro Grimaldo is said to be among the top five left-backs in Europe by his club but the good news for Gerrard is that the £25 million-rated defender will sit out the clash with Gers due to an ankle knock. Benfica added some Premier League nous to their back line over the summer by signing Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi while Brazil international Everton made an £18 million switch from Gremio. Germany striker Luca Waldschmidt has made a successful start since completing his £13.5 million move from Freiburg with five goals in eight appearances so far. They also include ex-Queen’s Park Rangers and AC Milan wide man Adel Taarabt in their ranks.
The much-travelled Jorge Jesus returned to the Estadio da Luz for a second shot at managing Benfica this summer. His previous six-year stint in charge saw him rack up a record 10 trophies before he departed in 2015 for spells with Lisbon rivals Sporting, Saudi outfit Al Hilal and Brazilian giants Flamengo, who he guided to Copa Libertadores glory last year.
How to watch
The match is on television and also available to stream online – click here for the run-down on how to watch.
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