Is history on Benfica's side despite PAOK's unbelievable home record? Facts and stats surrounding the enthralling Champions League clash
Benfica, having only managed a 1-1 home draw against Greek outfit PAOK in the Champions League play-off first leg, are facing the prospect of elimination, and know that they will have to score at least once if they are to make it to the group stage.
With that 76th minute equaliser from Amr Warda in the first leg, Benfica are ninety minutes away from missing out on the Champions League proper and a multi-million pound windfall, a prospect which could have further repercussions on Benfica's squad for the rest of the season, with the need to sell to make up for the lack of financial earnings increasing significantly.
But can Benfica turn around their slim disadvantage and emerge victorious to make the group stage of Europe's most illustrious competition? Here, we look at the facts and figures surrounding the sides and the crucial make-or-break match.
Benfica's recent Champions League record
Firstly, should Benfica earn victory over the two-legged tie, this will mark the ninth consecutive season that they have competed in the Champions League group stage, having qualified for every edition of the competition since 2010. In those years, they've never had to go through this gruelling task of navigating the qualification stages, always previously earning an automatic spot in the group stage due to their league ranking, and they are therefore currently in somewhat uncharted territory in their search for European glory.
In those previous eight editions of competing in the Champions League, however, they only topped their group on one occasion - when they were pitted against Manchester United, Basel and Oțelul Galați - and only advanced to the second knockout round on a further two occasions, in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
While somewhat unimpressive, their recent European record is far more disappointing; having quite astonishingly only won one of their last nine Champions League matches - which also includes a dire 7 defeats, six of which all came in their disastrous Champions League group stage exit last season - their need to break the cycle to emerge victorious against PAOK, in what is one of the biggest matches, certainly financially, in Benfica's long, distinguished career, is increasingly essential.
A score draw of 2-2 or more will, however, also be enough for Benfica, while a 1-1 tie will take the game to extra time. But any kind of defeat or even a 0-0 dead-rubber encounter will condemn Benfica to Europe's secondary competition and a place in the Europa League group stage, a small consolation to the Portuguese outfit who are aiming for a shot at performing on the continent's biggest stage.
PAOK's unusual Champions League past
PAOK, on the other hand, have never in their history made it to the group stage of the Champions League, and are only 90 minutes away from changing that unwanted record and competing in the main stage of the competition for the very first time.
They have made it to the Champions League play-off round before though, on just one occasion, and have therefore previously come in touching distance of making it to the main stage of Europe's elite contest. The one and only time they have ever previously come this far was just a few seasons ago, in the 2013-14 campaign, and even then their place in the competition was incredibly fortuitous.
Indeed, having actually lost 3-1 on aggregate to Ukrainian side Metalist in the third qualifying round, PAOK were, by all accounts and purposes, out of the Champions League and set to drop into Europe's secondary contest. However, after Metalist were found guilty of match-fixing in the Ukrainian Premier League, PAOK were reinstated in the Champions League, and were given a free-hit in the play-off round against German outfit Schalke to make the group stage.
History is on Benfica's side
And the first-leg has a serious ring of Deja Vua about it. PAOK, having to travel away for the first leg, fell behind in the first leg, courtesy of a goal from Jefferson Farfan, but managed to nick an away goal thanks to Miroslav Stoch, who found the back of the net in the closing 20 minutes. Coincidentally, that was pretty much exactly hoe PAOK's trip to Lisbon played out, with Benfica taking the lead in the first half, before PAOK's Warda found the back of the net just beyond the 75 minute mark.
And, just like last week against Benfica, PAOK's clash with Schalke ended 1-1 - an exceptional result for the Greek side who had the crucial away goal that meant they were heading into the home fixture going through to the group stage, within touching distance of both financial and competitive glory.
However, the second leg did not go to plan, with PAOK going on to lose the second leg match at home 3-2, going out 4-3 on aggregate. So close yet so far for the Greek club.
But such recent frame of reference should give Benfica fans a great deal of comfort going into the second leg clash this Thursday, with history seemingly on their side; with the first leg played last week having such a great deal of similarity to PAOK's meeting with Schalke at the same stage of the Champions League just five seasons earlier, Benfica fans know that the challenge they face is far from insurmountable and, if history continues to repeat itself, they will still go on to earn a place in this season's group stage despite their deficit and their lack of home advantage. Schalke could do it - and so can Benfica!
PAOK's sensational home record could prove formidable
PAOK's home record is nothing short of outstanding, however. Perfect may be the word to use to describe their ability at home. Having already beaten Basel and Spartak Moscow at home in the previous qualification rounds for the Champions League, PAOK know how to get the job done at home, and, in addition to winning their only home game of the season so far this campaign, not only went undefeated at home throughout the whole of last season, but won every single one of their home matches, across ALL competitions - every single one.
Such a feat is quite simply impossible to comprehend. Across their entire League season, their Greek Cup triumph, and their Europa League campaign, not only did they avoid defeat in every match they played in front of their own fans, but they actually won every single one.
That's 21 matches, 21 wins. A record crucial in leading PAOK to the Greek Cup title and their second place finish in the league.
If all of this hasn't whet your appetite for a second leg clash that was already on a knife-edge, I don't know what will! Can Benfica break PAOK's sensational winning streak? Or will PAOK do what they know best and kill Benfica's hopes of continuing their Champions League journey?
Find out on Wednesday, with kick-off at 19:45. It's most certainly not one to miss.