Benfica: Europe’s sleeping giant beginning to wake

Lara Martins and teammates of SL Benfica celebrate after scoring a goal in the Champions League
Lara Martins and teammates of SL Benfica celebrate during the UEFA Women's Champions League group stage match vs Barcelona (Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

Benfica are preparing for one of the biggest challenges in their history after qualifying for the UEFA Women’s Champions League knockouts for the first time. They will take on eight-time title holders Olympique Lyonnais in the quarter-finals after finishing second in Group A.

Benfica have gone from strength to strength since their promotion to top flight Portuguese football in 2019. A true sleeping giant, having only founded the women’s team in 2017, they have now claimed three consecutive First Division titles. This is alongside a solitary Second Division title, the Portuguese Cup, and three League Cups — a record haul in Portugal.

Benfica have dominated Portuguese football since their promotion. As Águias have won every possible league title, apart from the infamous cancelled Covid season, of which they sat top of the league at the point of cancellation.

History on the horizon for Benfica

Now, Benfica will mark another major milestone. They will play their first ever Champions League knockout stage match on March 19th, at Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. The Eagles will then take on Lyon at their Groupama Stadium for the second leg on March 27th.

This is the first time a Portuguese team has made it this far in the tournament. Benfica finished second in their group on nine points, behind only Barcelona who they held to a thrilling 4-4 draw on the final day, conceding the equaliser in the 96th minute.

The Inspiradoras surely have their sights set on Champions League glory. It’s the only major honour still evading the Portuguese champions. With players such as the legendary Jessica Silva — a former Lyon forward who helped the French powerhouses win the Division 1 Féminine title and the Champions League in 2020 — there’s no lack of experienced winners in the side.

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Manager Filipa Patão has a war chest of talent available to her. Benfica’s first team squad boasts 14 current international seniors, ten of which represented their respective nations at the last World Cup. Patão herself is no stranger to trophies either with 17 titles as a player, including eight Portuguese Leagues, seven Portuguese Cups and a Portuguese Super Cup.

Benfica will face legends of the game Lyon in their historic quarter-final fixture later this month. With the likes of Eugénie Le Sommer, Delphine Cascarino, Kadidiatou Diani, and Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg in their forward ranks, Benfica will be relying on 34-year-old Portuguese legend Sílvia Rebelo to keep them at bay.

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