The Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League unfolds over the next two Thursdays, so before the action kicks off around Europe on Thursday afternoon, we thought we would preview the eight matchups of the round.
Up next, we’re going to take a look at the matchup between Croatian champion Dinamo Zagreb and the current leader of the Portuguese Primeira Liga Benfica. Their leg one match kicks off from Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, Croatia on Thursday 7 March at 5:55pm GMT (12:55pm EST).
What Happened in the Round of 32
Dinamo Zagreb was seeded in the last round as winner of Group D, and they faced off against Viktoria Plzeň of the Czech Republic. Before the first leg, both clubs had about an equal chance of advancing, and little to no chance of making the finals. After Viktoria Plzeň won leg one, however, Zagreb was then the underdog heading into leg two. They fortunately held home pitch advantage as the seeded team, won 3-0 and advanced to the Round of 16, winning 4-2 on aggregate.
Benfica’s path to the Round of 16 was a bit more direct. They too were seeded after finishing as the fourth-best third-place team coming over from the Champions League group stage. They faced off against the worst third-place team in Galatasaray of Turkey. They were overwhelming favorites heading into that matchup, and won leg one 2-1 in Turkey. Leg two was a little more subdued (a 0-0 draw), enabling them to advance 2-1 on aggregate.
What the Experts are Saying
By FivethirtyEight’s SPI metric, Dinamo Zagreb is the second-worst club remaining in Europa League, and as such are overwhelming underdogs in this matchup. Before the draw, they only had a 29% chance of advancing through to the quarterfinals, a number that went down to 25% once they were drawn against Benfica.
And while Dinamo Zagreb is barely expected to advance to the quarterfinals, Benfica currently boasts a 20% of making the final, and a 10% chance of winning the whole thing. This was helped slightly by this draw and others, and they are now the 6th-best favorite in the tournament.
What We’re Thinking
We really have no reason to think that Benfica won’t come out on top in this matchup, especially as the host for leg two next week. They’ve lost only three times at home all season across all competitions, so they simply need to repeat what they did in the Round of 32 to find a home in the quarterfinals. Dinamo Zagreb, on the other hand, has to hope to pull out a win at home – preferably a shutout – otherwise, they will face a steep climb to remain in European competition beyond March.
Until next time…