Soccer-Benfica's Serb contingent prove worth on European stage

By Daniel Alvarenga

LISBON, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Benfica trio Ljubomir Fejsa, Filip Djuricic and Lazar Markovic shone in Tuesday's Champions League win over Anderlecht challenging critics who questioned the club's decision to focus on buying Serbian players.

Pundits have criticised the signing of five Serbs in the transfer window, taking the total to six, partly blaming the policy for Benfica's poor start to the domestic campaign and giving a Serbian twist to the Lisbon club's name - 'Benficovic'.

But in the 2-0 victory over the Belgians in Group C, Fejsa, Djuricic and Markovic gelled perfectly with compatriot and midfield enforcer Nemanja Matic, Benfica's current player-of-the-season.

Fejsa, in particular, thrived in the holding midfield role in a familiar partnership with Serbia team mate Matic.

"Fejsa showed he is very competitive. From his clever positioning on the pitch, you can't even tell he arrived just a short while ago," said Benfica coach Jorge Jesus.

A ball-winner and tireless worker, Fejsa is also a steady passer and ended the match with one of the highest rates of successful long pass completions with 11 out of 14.

"Anderlecht's main threat (Matias) Suarez had no influence in the match because Fejsa stopped him. Matic and Fejsa will form a perfect partnership," Jesus said.


Fejsa freed up Matic to push forward and covered for the more attacking midfield duo of Markovic and Djuricic, a number 10 whose elegant style reminds some Benfica fans of Rui Costa.

"Markovic is an extremely creative and fast player, and a rebel. There were moments in which he lost the ball, but we have to give him the benefit of the doubt," the Benfica coach said, adding tht he allowed him to roam free in attack.

"I, as a coach, cannot be too tactically demanding of him, all fans love players like him."

Markovic, 19, has scored twice for Benfica in the league, including a wonderfulindividual goal against Lisbon rivals Sporting when he dribbled past several opponents with ease.

However, Benfica's Serbian acquisitions have not all been an unqualified success with centre back Stefan Mitrovic and forward Miralem Sulejmani so far failing to catch the eye.

Benfica are fifth in the Portuguese Premier League, five points behind leaders Porto, and in the Champions League they next visit group favourites Paris St Germain on Oct. 2. (Editing by Ken Ferris)