The Estadio da Luz is the setting for the first-ever European meeting between Benfica and French side Toulouse, as they square off in the UEFA Europa League playoff Round.
Roger Schmidt’s Benfica are looking to enjoy a memorable campaign in continental competitions this season when Toulouse visit for the first leg of their Europa League knockout tie.
The hosts of this game are playing for pride after placing third behind Real Sociedad and Inter Milan in their UEFA Champions League group. This came after successive quarterfinal finishes in the UCL, and they will be eager to break their long-standing European curse in the second tier.
Although domestic results have mainly remained positive this season, the team has underperformed, which was laid bare by their disastrous Champions League campaign. Hence, Roger Schmidt has endured heavy criticism for his erratic team selections, but they would love nothing better than a successful adventure in Europe.
Benfica’s domestic campaign began with a last-gasp 3-2 defeat against Boavista, which came by two late goals. Although they won all of the following four league matches, the Portuguese champions also lost their first four UCL games against RB Salzburg, Inter Milan, and Real Sociedad.
Results stayed consistent in the Primeira Liga, but the Eagles were on the brink of an embarrassing exit from Europe until a 3-0 lead in the home leg against Inter. The Italians staged a sensational second-half comeback, but Benfica held on for a 3-3 draw that kept them in with a chance to play in the Europa League.
Indeed, they beat Salzburg 3-1 on Matchday 6 to finish above the Austrians and progress into the playoff round of the second-tier competition.
Benfica would be desperate to right some wrongs, and winning over Toulouse is the first step in that direction.
The Frenchmen are in unfamiliar territory in the Europa League but have fared well in the competition. Les Pitchouns are participating in the 2023–24 Europa League due to their first-ever triumph in last season’s Coupe de France. They will be keen to build on that success with a run into the latter stages of European competition.
Carles Martínez Novell’s side started the season with six winless games in the league, but they got four points from their first two European matches. Liverpool crushed them 5-1 at Anfield but won the reverse fixture 3-2 at home.
This put Toulouse in an extreme position to advance to the knockout stage by beating LASK on the final matchday to secure a three-point advantage over Union Saint-Gilloise.
The challenge for Les Violets is to bring some of their continental form into the league, as they currently sit in the Ligue 1 relegation zone.
Toulouse would be facing superior opposition in Benfica. Still, their European campaign has been a story of defiance, and they would be looking for a massive scalp against the Portuguese.
Nevertheless, two wins and eight defeats from 17 league matches could be better and more fitting for a team looking to get to the Europa League Round of 16.
They must find some consistent form rather than depend on over-performing on European nights. This is vital for confidence and fighting to beat the drop into Ligue 2.
This first leg match takes place at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz on Thursday, February 15, 2024, with kick-off set for 8 PM UK time. Match tickets are available for sale on each club’s website and via UEFA channels.
The magnificent arena accommodates up to 64,000 people, and you can expect this game to be sold out due to the significance the tie holds for both teams. Hence, getting match tickets would be difficult because of the high demand and official sources are unlikely to have any left available.
Supporters of both teams are desperate to witness their team make history, and we advise anyone looking for Benfica vs Toulouse tickets to check ticket resale sites.
Alexander Bah and Casper Tengstedt are out through minor injuries for Benfica, but they are expected to have fully recovered for this match.
Meanwhile, Juan Bernat and David Neres (who tore the meniscus in his left knee) are fitness doubts at the time of writing.
Zakaria Aboukhlal and Mikkel Desler are injured and walking the fitness tightrope for Toulouse. Still, the likes of Logan Costa, Moussa Diarra, and Frank Magri are away with their national team squads. Fitness permitting, the internationals should have returned to club action by the time this game kicks off.
Rafa Silva and Angel Di Maria are key attacking cogs for Benfica, and they will once again pose the biggest threat to the Toulouse defense.
The Portuguese men must be sharp in attack and take their chances against a side that will be set up to upset them.
Benfica: Trubin; Aursnes, Silva, Otamendi, Morato; Kokcu, Neves; Di María, Silva, Mario; Tengstedt
Toulouse have conceded more goals than they have scored this season, so the focus must be on the defensive phase of the game to stop their famous opponents.
It is pertinent for Novell’s side to strike a balance across the team and do enough to advance to the Last 16.
Toulouse: Restes; Mawissa, Costa, Nicolaisen, Diarra; Dønnum, Sierro, Cásseres, Cissoko; Gelabert, Dallinga
Benfica is a firm favorite, considering their pedigree and wealth of experience in European knockout competitions. However, they still need to transfer that narrative into their continental adventures.
Toulouse would thus be keen to prey on that shattered confidence in European competitions and aim to frustrate the Portuguese. The French side must be cautious of their weak defense and stick to a strategic game plan.
While Benfica must win this tie, Toulouse is comfortable with their underdogs’ tag, and it is up to the Eagles to take control of the games.
A first-leg win would be perfect for their fortunes.
Benfica 2-0 Toulouse