FC Bayern take on Portuguese runners-up Benfica in the first group match of this year's Champions League campaign on Wednesday evening. The two sides have met eight times so far, and FC Bayern have not lost a single match. The only two Champions League duels were about two and a half years ago, when the German record champions eliminated Benfica in the quarter-finals, winning 1-0 in Munich and drawing 2-2 in Lisbon. fcbayern.com presents Munich's first opponents.
Benfica are the gold standard in Portugal with an unrivalled title collection. They are the record champions (36 titles) and record cup winners (26) in Portugal, but they have not been so successful in Europe's elite club competition in recent years. The last time Benfica won a major international title was in 1962, when they won the European Champion Clubs' Cup for the second time in a row. They contested eight European Cup finals since then, but a special curse seems to be in force, Benfica losing every single one of them.
Legend has it that there was a dispute between the club officials and coach Béla Guttmann after the 5-3 victory over Real Madrid in the final. It was about money, Guttmann and Benfica parting ways as a consequence. In high dudgeon, Guttmann said: "You shan't win a European Cup for the next 100 years!" Benfica have tried a number of things to lift the so-called Guttmann curse, club legend Eusebio praying at Guttmann's grave and asking for the curse to be lifted. A bronze statue of the Hungarian coach at their home stadium was of no help either.
Champions League record:
Benfica are 20th in the all-time table of the Champions League with 89 points from 94 matches (excluding the European Cup). The Lisbon giants contest their 14th Champions League campaign and will aim to atone for the last campaign, when they failed to take any points, suffering a group stage exit. The Portuguese record champions had made it to the knockout stages in 2015/16 and 2016/17.
Benfica contest their home matches at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, known as the Estádio da Luz (Stadium of Light). The stadium was built in 2003 for the European championship, and the Benfica fans transferred the name of Benifca's old stadium, Cathedral, to the new stadium with a capacity of 65,647. A new ritual came with the move: an eagle (Benfica's mascot) flies around the stadium before each home match. Legend has it that Benfica win their home matches if the eagle completes more than two laps. If the bird lands earlier, the away team will win.
Rui Vitória has been Benfica coach since the summer of 2015, winning the championship title in his first season and the domestic double a year later. Last season the Portuguese record champions failed to clinch any silverware under the 48-year-old for the first time. One reason might be that outstanding players like Brazil keeper Ederson, Victor Lindelöf from Sweden and Bayern pro Renato Sanches made their pro debuts under the coach but moved on to other European top clubs.
Pizzi is the masterming in Benfica's top-class midfield. The 28-year-old has been Benfica's most prolific player on five goals so far this season. He has to deputise for forward Jonas, who was last season's top scorer in the domestic league on 34 goals. The 34-year-old has been sidelined with a cervical spine injury since the beginning of the season. In defence the two talented players Rúben Dias (21) and Alejandro Grimaldi (22) stand out, but both are rather inexperinced on the interntional stage. Club legend Luisao (37), who has been a central defender for Benfica since 2003, will hang up his boots at the end of the season.
After going one season without silverware Benfica got off to a good start to the season, topping the table on ten points from four matches, equal on points with Sporting Braga and local rivals Sporting. Reigning champions FC Porto are one point short, lying fourth. Benfica laid down a marker on the international stage earlier this season, eliminating two notable clubs, Fenerbahce and PAOK, in the qualification campaign.