Benfica to justify favouritism
Ben Coley previews this evening's Europa League final and expects Benfica to be crowned champions when they take on Sevilla.
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Benfica are on a long losing run in European finals but can put an end to it with Europa League victory over Sevilla on Wednesday.
Jorge Jesus' side romped to their 33rd Primeira Liga title to cap a return to the top of the Portuguese game; with the league cup in the bag and the Taca de Portugal likely to follow shortly, victory here would represent a sweeping of the board.
Recent success has been established from back to front, with a water-tight defence boasting the best home, away and overall records in a league which saw Sporting Lisbon and Porto comfortably kept at bay.
It's a defence which helped them to a 2-1 aggregate win over Juventus in the semi-finals of this competition and with the Old Lady about to secure another Serie A title by a country mile, Benfica's exploits look all the stronger.
In contrast, Sevilla were a shade fortunate to scrape past Valencia with a last-gasp away goal in their semi-final and their form has tailed off after an encouraging start to the La Liga campaign.
In their favour is the fact that they won the UEFA Cup in 2006 and 2007 under the expert handling of Juande Ramos, but little of that regime remains and they may find it difficult to break down the favourites.
To do so, Sevilla may rely on French forward Kevin Gameiro whose scoring record at all levels stands up to scrutiny. He turned 27 last week and will look to mark that with his fifth goal in this competition, having been instrumental in Sevilla's progress along with Carlos Arturo Bacca - the pair are vying for the nod up front.
Stephane Mbia is potentially a big threat in the scorer markets having been the hero in Valencia and the on-loan defender could be the value for those looking to side with Sevilla in some way. He's 14/1 to find the net for the fifth time in just eight games with one firm and it could well be that the Spanish side are at their most dangerous from set-pieces once more.
But my focus is on Benfica here as they look to have the class and confidence to carry on their superb run since losing last year's final to a last-gasp Chelsea goal.
They have attacking quality to complement their defensive stability even with Oscar Cardozo seemingly on the decline, and they can cope with the absence of suspended pair Enzo Perez and Lazar Markovic who were sent off at Juventus.
I do think it'll be a tight game, and it's noteworthy that three of the last seven finals have gone to extra time -a figure which looked set to increase to four a year ago until Branislav Ivanovic popped up in the dying seconds to deny Benfica.
With that in mind, I wouldn't put anyone off the draw but, whether it takes 90 minutes or 120, Benfica do look worthy favourites here and worth backing to lift the trophy at 8/11.