sport

Fenerbahce v Benfica preview

Team news ahead of Thursday's Europa League semi-final first leg between Fenerbahce and Benfica at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium (KO 8.05pm).

Fenerbahce coach Aykut Kocaman has described Thursday's Europa League semi-final first leg with Benfica as "the most important game in our history".

The Turkish side are bidding to reach their first European final, with Swiss side Basle or European Champions Chelsea lying in wait at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15.

Kocaman told a press conference: "Today, my team and I are feeling pride and honour at playing a semi-final in one of the two biggest club championships in the world.

"This is the first European semi-final in our history, whereas Benfica have been here many times before.

"It is the most important match in our history - it is a milestone.

"We should aim to continue this success over the coming years."

The 18-time Turkish champions beat Lazio 3-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals to reach this stage, and Kocaman believes they are making strides on the European stage.

"This is very good for our club, it's a great achievement to be compared with the huge Benfica," he said.

Fenerbahce were humbled 7-0 by Benfica in their last first-leg meeting in Europe back in 1975, but few will attach any significance to that result tomorrow night.

Indeed Kocaman is bullish about his side's chances, and thinks playing the first leg at Fener's Sukru Saracoglu Stadium will play into their hands.

He said: "It is a strong advantage to play the first match [at home]," he said.

"We have to turn that to our advantage until the final whistle blows.

"After reaching the quarter-final, I said that each team in the last eight is capable of winning the title. Between these semi-finalists, there is so little difference.

"The teams who exploit the small differences better than their opponents will reach the final.

"Benfica are a step ahead of us when you look at their experience, but Turkish teams play with belief and enthusiasm in these later rounds."

Fener are looking to bounce back from a 2-0 loss to Genclerbirligi in the Super Lig on Saturday that has left their title hopes in tatters, with the club now seven points behind league leaders Galatasaray with four games remaining.

Kocaman is expecting a response from his players, and conceded they may have to show aggression if they are to counter the quality of the Portuguese league leaders.

"A team like Benfica have high self-confidence.

"I think in the first part of the game we have to take advantage of being at home and show a little more aggression."

Fenerbahce have no new injury concerns, although Kocaman still has decisions to make.

Strike Pierre Webo looks set remain in the side ahead of top scorer Moussa Sow, who only has one goal in 10 European appearances this season against the 15 he has scored in the Super Lig.

Teenage midfielder Salih Ucan may be replaced by Selcuk Sahin, while Miroslav Stoch and Mehmet Topuz are both pushing for starts as Kocaman looks to shake up his squad after the weekend defeat.

Benfica coach Jorge Jesus is determined to take the fear factor out of Fenerbahce's infamous home ground.

Jesus is determined to silence the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium with a dreaded away goal.

Jesus has navigated testing trips to Bordeaux and Newcastle to guide the Lisbon club into the semi-finals of this year's Europa League, with the Kadikoy district of Istanbul providing the venue for Thursday night's first-leg encounter.

The Fenerbahce faithful's reputation for providing fearsome welcoming committees precedes them.

The club have already observed a UEFA order to play behind closed doors at the Sukru Saracoglu this year after supporters threw fireworks into the stadium during the last-32 visit of BATE Borisov.

But, after Lazio were beaten 2-0 in the quarter-finals in front of empty stands, Fener will play in front of a capacity crowd once again.

Where football is concerned, a 3-0 home thrashing by Borussia Monchengladbach represents only a minor blot on Fener's record in this season's Europa League and remarkable form overseas has seen them claim four wins and draw twice outside of Turkey.

Benfica can take similar comfort from their Estadio da Luz home - a fortress of football that has seen Bayer Leverkusen, Bordeaux and Newcastle brushed aside and only four league points fall by the wayside.

And Jesus believes bursting Fener's bubble in Istanbul will lay strong foundations for a push into a first European final since 1990.

He told the club's official website: "At this stage, in the semi-finals, there are no favourites. Both teams have strengths and weaknesses and I believe it will be a balanced tie.

"The side that plays the first leg, though, is always looking for a clean sheet. It's something that everyone worries about.

"Benfica have become accustomed to this kind of environment over the years. We are used to going to tough stadiums and I honestly don't think it will be an advantage for Fenerbahce.

"Our greatest worry will be dealing with the movement of their front men and the quality of their players. It was the same with Newcastle, however, so that proves that we can overcome such difficulties.

"We will stay true to our playing style, to our principles, and to our ideas. We believe that we can score on Thursday.

"We are prepared. This tie will not be decided by the first game."

Jesus has been boosted by the return to fitness of defender Ezequiel Garay following a knock he took in last weekend's derby victory over Sporting Lisbon.

Ola John and Oscar Cardozo are vying to be the focal point of the 4-2-3-1 system that has garnered the Aguias so much success this term.

Should Benfica progress beyond the Turks and reach the Amsterdam final, where they will meet Chelsea or Basle, they will return to the scene of their European Cup triumph over Real Madrid in 1962.