Benfica vs PAOK – Tuesday, August 21, 20:00 BST/21:00 CEST – Estádio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal
Finishing second in the Liga NOS last year Benfica now welcome their Greek counterparts in the Champions League playoffs. Getting here, however, was not easy as Benfica had to eliminate Turkish runners-up Fenerbahçe in the third Champions League qualification stage.
It ended up being a tightly fought affair in which Benfica had the better end advancing to the Champions League playoffs to face PAOK. Champions League football is of paramount importance for Benfica – after all the club’s business model is set up to present their best talent to the world stage in this competition.
The Águias also have a rich European history. European Cup winners in 1961 and 1962 that rich European history, however, is also cursed. Benfica’s successful head coach of the 1960s, Béla Guttman, is said to have put a curse on the club after the 1962 European Cup final. Denied a pay raise Guttman left stating that the club would never win a European final again.
Benfica have since appeared in eight European finals and lost them all. Hence, rich in history Benfica have not won a trophy in Europe since 1962. Nonetheless, with 184,264 paying members Benfica are a giant of European football and record champions of Portugal with 36 national championships.
Hence, even though Benfica are not the reigning champion, they are still the biggest brand in Portugal. This season the club once again wants to challenge for the league title and, of course, go deep in the Champions League.
The club should be aided by, the fact, that Benfica have not lost any major names this summer. The biggest outgoing transfer has been João Carvalho, who joined Nottingham Forest. Coming in are the likes of Nicolás Castillo (Pumas), who is currently injured, Germán Conti (Colón), Odysseas Vlachodimos (Panathinaikos) and Facundo Ferreyra (Shakhtar).
PAOK also were busy in the transfer window this summer. Owned by the controversial Russian oligarch Ivan Savvidis PAOK finished second in the Greek Super League last season.
Savvidis was the major reason for the club to finishing behind champions AEK. Savvidis stormed the field in a league game against AEK last season wearing a gun on his belt. That action cost PAOK points and has resulted in a three-year suspension for Savvidis from attending Greek league games.
That suspension, however, did not stop Savvidis from attending the third round Champions League qualification game against Spartak Moscow. His club eliminated his compatriots 3-2 on aggregate (3-2 and 0-0), and following the game, Savvidis expressed his dislike for Spartak stating that he “supports Dynamo Kyiv.”
Savvidis was also upset with the VIP-Box provided to him by Spartak and ended up purchasing another one that better suited his needs. The fanfare adds to the colourful owner, who refused to accept that his club finished second in the league last season.
Instead, Savvidis has called it a spiritual championship. Not that it mattered. Finishing first would have still meant playing in the third round of the UEFA Champions League qualification stage. Hence, regarding this game the second place last season did not change much for PAOK.
On the field, this season the two games against Spartak, as well as the first the second round qualification victory over Basel, were the first games of the season for PAOK. Greek football will not kick off until August 25. Hence, the Champions League games have been PAOK’s only competitive games this season but getting to this stage suggests that the lack of league football has done little damage to the club’s competitive edge.
No league games at the moment could give PAOK a decisive edge ahead of the first leg. The Greeks have shown that they can be dangerous both at home and on the road. Benfica should win their home game though not without giving up some key goals, however.
Benfica vs PAOK – Players to look out for:
Pizzi #21 – Benfica
The 28-year-old midfielder Pizzi has been on fire early in the season. The native of Bragança has scored four goals in the first two league games this season. A central midfielder Pizzi plays a vital role in head coach Rui Vitória’s 4-1-4-1 lineup. A box-to-box midfielder Pizzi was linked with a move to Germany and Spain in the summer and should Benfica fail to reach the group stage of the Champions League may still be off this summer.
Aleksandar Prijović #9 – PAOK
Aleksandar Prijović is PAOK’s forward tank. The Serbian striker has already scored three goals in four Champions League qualification games this season. Prijović was part of the Serbia squad that took part at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But the striker featured in just one game – playing 90 minutes in Serbia’s first game against Costa Rica.
Benfica vs PAOK – Match Stats
- Portuguese runners-up welcome Greek counterparts
- Benfica beat PAOK on pens in 1999/2000 UEFA Cup second round
- Eagles also beat Greek side 4-0 (agg) in 2013/14 UEFA Europa League round of 32
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Benfica vs PAOK – 3-2
Benfica vs PAOK – Lineups
Vlachodimos – Grimaldo, Días, Jardel, Almeida – Fejsa – Cervi, Fernandes, Pizzi, Salvio – Ferreyra
Head Coach: Rui Vitória
Paschalakis – Vierinha, Crespo, Varela, Léo Matos – Maurício, Cañas – El Kaddouri, Pelkas, Limnios – Prijović
Head Coach: Razvan Lucescu
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.