No one would have wanted to be paired with Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals after watching them eliminate three-time former European champions Inter Milan.
Benfica were the unlucky team in the draw, and here are five reasons the Eagles can get the better of a Portuguese side who share the same nickname.
1) They’re the form team
Following their hugely impressive second-leg victory in Italy, Eintracht now have a record of eight wins and two draws in this season’s Europa League. The 1980 UEFA Cup winners are, in fact, still unbeaten in all competitions in 2019.
The Bundesliga club are one of four former winners of either the UEFA Cup or the Europa League still standing, and they will have gained huge confidence from the manner of their success against Inter at the San Siro.
An early Luka Jovic strike proved the difference but that was just one of a whopping 18 attempts on goal that the visitors had, with Sebastien Haller unlucky in the first half to hit the bar and then be denied by the offside flag.
Inter keeper Samir Handanovic was in top form, and he needed to be. Eintracht have won 15 of 20 matches in their Europa League history, and they have scored at least two goals in all bar three of those games.
Benfica may have started off in the UEFA Champions League this season, but that won’t faze Adi Hütter or his team. Eintracht have already seen off two other Champions League drop-outs, Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter, in the knockout stage.
Watch: Learn why Eintracht's front three are so lethal
2) The return of Rebic
With 23 goals, Eintracht were the leading scorers in this season’s Europa League before the round of 16. They could and probably should have found the net more often against Inter, but Serbian star Jovic got his seventh goal in this season’s competition to see them through 1-0 on aggregate.
The way that Eintracht dispatched three-time UEFA Cup winners Inter was all the more impressive considering that they were missing one of their key players for both legs. Ante Rebic tweaked his knee in a league win over Hoffenheim at the start of March, meaning he wasn’t able to take his usual place as part of one of the most potent attacking trios in world football.
Ahead of Matchday 26, Jovic, Haller and Rebic had combined for 37 of Eintracht’s 50 Bundesliga goals in 2018/19. The prospect of Croatia international Rebic returning in time for the two-legged tie with Benfica in April is not one that the Portuguese side will be looking forward to.
3) Winter signings are making the difference
Eintracht were shrewd in their shopping last summer, bringing back goalkeeper Kevin Trapp from Paris Saint-Germain and adding Evan N’Dicka and Filip Kostic to replace the likes of Lukas Hradecky, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Marius Wolf.
Their winter transfer business looks just as good, however, with both Martin Hinteregger and Sebastian Rode starting all four knockout matches in the Europa League to date.
A loan arrival from Augsburg, Austrian defender Hinteregger scored a crucial early away goal in the first leg of the last-32 tie against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar. He also went close to getting on the scoresheet again in the opening match with Inter, which would have capped his dominant display in the scoreless draw in Germany.
Rode, meanwhile, covered every blade of glass at the San Siro, snapping into tackles and driving his team forward once he had the ball at his feet.
“I feel very good at the moment and the coach has faith in me, which makes it easier,” the energetic German midfielder said after the win in Italy. “At the end I had cramp in my calf and then in my abs, so I had nothing left.”
Rode made his name at Eintracht before moving on to Bayern Munich and then Borussia Dortmund. Like Hinteregger, he is relishing the chance to make his mark at the business end of a top European competition.
Watch: See why Evan N'Dicka was named Rookie of the Month
4) A brilliant blend of youth and experience at the back
With club captain David Abraham missing the Inter games through injury, Hinteregger formed a rock-solid three-man backline alongside N’Dicka and Makoto Hasebe.
France U20 international N’Dicka has been in supreme form lately, claiming the Bundesliga Rookie of the Month award for February as a result of his cool defending and smart passing. The 19-year-old was at it again in Milan, winning plenty of aerial battles and nipping in to poke the ball away on the rare occasions that Inter looked like getting in behind.
Japanese veteran Hasebe skippered the side in Italy, and the 35-year-old delivered another masterful performance. A former defensive midfielder, the ex-Wolfsburg stalwart led by example at the heart of the defence, with his anticipation and bravery being central to many of the 32 clearances his side made.
Eintracht will have to be wary of a Benfica team that has been scoring freely of late, though, with former Eintracht striker Haris Seferovic, latest prodigy Joao Felix, Brazilian veteran Jonas and forward-thinking midfielders Pizzi and Rafa Silva just some of their goal threats.
If the back three don’t manage to keep the Portuguese giants at bay, however, then Trapp might. The Germany international has been in fine fettle since returning on loan from PSG, and the 28-year-old made a crucial penalty save in the first match against Inter before earning a second shutout in Milan.
5) Not-so-secret weapons
While Benfica can call on the knowledge of Swiss forward Seferovic, who scored 16 goals in 86 Bundesliga appearances for Eintracht between 2014 and 2017, Hütter also has a couple of players with inside information.
Jovic is on a two-year loan deal from Benfica, having joined the Lisbon outfit in February 2016 before leaving for Germany after making only two league appearances. The 21-year-old, whose winner against Inter was his 22nd in all competitions this season, could do serious damage to his parent club.
“It will be a really interesting game for us,” Jovic told the Eintracht website. “I’m obviously looking forward to returning to Lisbon, and meeting one or two old acquaintances.”
Goncalo Paciencia is another attacker who knows a thing or two about what will await Eintracht when they travel to the Estadio da Luz for the first leg on 11 April. The son of former Porto legend Domingos, Paciencia arrived from Benfica’s big rivals last summer. He can no doubt provide valuable insight ahead of the last-eight clash, after helping Porto beat the two-time European champions to the Portuguese league title last season.
“It’s going to be a great tie,” Paciencia told Eintracht’s website. “We’re facing a side that have a lot of quality in their squad, and get to play in a really nice and impressive stadium.
“But we have a brilliant stadium and a strong squad too, of course. I’m looking forward to playing a game back in Portugal, and I’m really determined for us to get past Benfica and reach the next round.”
To do so, Eintracht may need some help from another of their not-so-secret weapons. A competition-record of around 15,000 away fans made the trip to the San Siro for the second leg against Inter, with Hasebe saying afterwards that he felt he had been playing in a “home game atmosphere”.
Tickets for the second leg in Germany sold out within three hours of the quarter-final draw, so - if both the team and the fans are on song once again - then Eintracht will fancy their chances of extending their European adventure.