The Europa League was mocked at the start of the season for the fact that few managers took the bloated contest seriously. Judging by Everton's 5-0 and 2-0 defeats home and away against Benfica, it was never a priority - until now. As the campaign has unfolded for David Moyes' side and Sporting Lisbon, it has taken on greater significance when they meet tonight in the first leg of the round of 32 tie. It has become the last chance of a trophy for both as they have struggled in domestic competitions. Sporting are surprisingly out of both domestic cups and fourth in the league, leaving the coach Carlos Carvalhal under pressure.
Everton even flirted with relegation, but the second-half of the campaign offers them more hope. It is 25 years since their only European triumph in the old Cup Winners' Cup. The ban on English clubs following the Heysel tragedy in 1985 hurt Everton more than anyone as they had a team that would have challenged the best. The current side might not have that depth of talent, but they do have desire as they showed in their 2-1 victory over the Premier League leaders Chelsea last week. "We have that right mental attitude," said the midfielder Tim Cahill. "Hopefully we can just grow stronger. Because we haven't been in too many European competitions, it's something the fans live for, taking the club to the next level, not only on the pitch, but off it."
Everton have grown since those defeats to Benfica and will be more positive about facing another Portuguese foe. But if Moyes wants an advantage at Goodison Park, he will have to give Louis Saha a second start in the competition. In his first, back in August against Sigma, the striker scored twice in a 4-0 win. He is a man for the big occasion. email@example.com