When bald eagle and club mascot Aguia Vitoria soars through the air and lands on the club badge, there is no holding back over 60,000 Benfiquistas before kick-off. That is the scene we can expect in Portugal on Wednesday at 21:00 CET as our UEFA Champions League journey starts for 2023/24.
Benfica are the club with the second largest membership in the world after Bayern Munich (close to 250,000 members), are record Portuguese champions (with 38 league titles) and the twice European champions boast an incredible squad.
SL Benfica have worked hard to gain a reputation as the ultimate talent factory in football. Os Encarnados have gained the biggest transfer revenue of any club since the turn of the century.
Squad brimming with stars and own talent
The current squad of the Aguias is a great mix of established stars such as Angel Di Maria, Juan Bernat or David Neres and exciting talents like Antonio Silva and Orkun Kökcü. One or two we faced in our UEFA Youth League final in spring 2022, which we ended up losing 0-6, unfortunately.
Antonio Silva and Tomas Araujo were the central defensive partnership in that clash, and they now have major roles in the first team. Goalkeeper Samuel Soares may have played for the youngsters too, if he hadn't been suspended for the final. There is currently a battle to keep goal after the departure of regular keeper Odysseas Vlachodimos between the young Portuguese talent and 10 Million Euro new signing Anatoliy Trubin.
Supremo made in Salzburg
Roger Schmidt was head coach for our Red Bulls for 99 matches before leaving for Bayer Leverkusen, Beijing Guoan and PSV Eindhoven and then taking the reins in Lisbon in summer 2022.
While he used to rely on a 4-4-2 for us, the German fields a 4-2-3-1 formation for Benfica. Success has supported his decision, with the 56-year-old helping the Eagles to their first Portuguese championship after a three-year barren spell. Only the opening match of the season has been lost this season to league leaders Boavista, with every other match won.
Kick off in the stadium of light
Known fondly as the Estadio da Luz, the Estadio do Benfica has space for 65,000 fans and packs a sensational atmosphere on a big European night.
A year after its opening, the Euro 2004 was held in the arena - with no celebrations that day for the locals as Portugal were beaten 0-1 by Greece. In 2014 and in the 2020 Covid-impacted season, UEFA held the Champions League final there.
The ground may be over twice as big as ours in Salzburg, but the pitch is exactly the same - with dimensions of 105×68 metres it is an exact match for ours at our home.
The pitch is where it will all unfold, of course. We have shown befoe many times that we can pull an upset over Europe's top teams. Our Red Bulls won't allow Aguia Vitoria, star names or the packed stadium to intimidate them when it comes down to business on Wednesday.