Champions League football returned to a packed Estádio da Luz on Wednesday evening, in the shape of the quarter-final 2nd Leg. Trailing 0-1 from the first leg in Germany, Benfica’s disciplined display had managed to give them a fighting chance against the German champions, Bayern Munich.
With a fantastic atmosphere at the Luz, many Benfiquistas could be forgiven for being quietly confident about their side’s chances in this tie. However, as with all best laid plans, there was a spanner or two in the works in the form of selection headaches.
Rui Vitória had hoped to name an unchanged squad, save for the suspension of Jonas who picked up a yellow in Munich. However, it wasn’t to be as both Kostas Mitroglou and Nico Gaitán were ruled out through injury prior to kick-off. It meant a chance for Carcela, Pizzi and Raúl Jiménez had chances to etch themselves into Benfica folklore. The Moroccan took over left-wing duties while Salvio would provide the width on the right as Pizzi moved into the middle. Jiménez was to lead the line as the lone striker. Meanwhile, the back four remained the same and Ederson continued in goal.
Bayern got Act 2, Scene 1 of the performance underway and then looked to want the ball to themselves for large parts of the opening exchanges. The Germans knocked the ball around comfortably but it was Benfica who had the game’s first chance.
On 3 minutes, Kimmich was adjudged to have fouled Raúl Jiménez in what appeared to be a 50-50 challenge. Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, awarded the free kick and Eliseu stepped up before firing low from around 25-30 yards out. The shot cannoned off the Bayern wall and, ultimately, went harmlessly wide of Manuel Neuer’s post for a corner.
With the visitors continuing to control possession for the most part, they finally created a half chance on 19 minutes when Philipp Lahm managed to get the better of Eliseu and deliver a cross into the box. Thomas Müller connected with it but, again, was unable to trouble Ederson in the Benfica goal. It was, however, a warning shot across the Benfica bows.
Minutes later, Bayern were again on the attack and Lahm was increasingly finding space on the right. He knocked a simple ball back to Thiago whose first time chip into the box found Vidal. The Chilean had managed to get in between André Almeida and Victor Lindelöf but his header was weak and was easily gathered by Ederson.
Back On Level Terms
On 27 minutes, Benfica finally found space to attack the Germans and Eliseu’s buccaneering run forward resulted in a superb searching ball into the box. There to meet it with a diving header was Jiménez. Having squeezed between Javi Martínez and David Alaba, the Mexican’s header flew past the on-rushing Manuel Neuer and brought parity to the tie. 1-0 on the night, 1-1 on aggregate. The reactions from the Benfiquistas were deafening and the tie looked to be turning in the Portuguese side’s favour.
It could have been even better for Benfica when, three minutes later, Jiménez was found by Salvio’s low cross from the right. With time and space in the box, the striker just couldn’t quite get the ball under control with his first touch. By the time he did get a tame shot off, he was being closed down by the Bayern defence and it meant that Neuer wasn’t worked as hard as Benfica fans would have liked. But it was proof, if needed, that Benfica were confident and going for the jugular.
However, the momentum the tie changed again on 38 minutes. Despite half chances for Arturo Vidal and Lahm, Bayern finally did reassert their control. Vidal scored the only goal of the first leg and he was found by Lahm again whose cross from the right was parried away impressively by Ederson. The ball fell outside the box to Vidal and he hit it on the half volley to make it 1-1 on the night. Benfica may have been disappointed with the lack of pressing of the second ball, but it meant that Bayern now had the crucial away goal and it seemed to take the wind out of Benfica’s sails.
With the Bayern goal just before the break, it was clear that the Germans now fancied themselves to go on and win this tie comfortably. They didn’t have to wait long after the break to put it beyond doubt when, on 52 minutes, Thomas Müller gave Bayern a second away goal to make it 1-2 on the night (1-3 on aggregate). A corner from the left by Xabi Alonso was headed back across goal at the far post by Javi Martínez. The Spaniard’s header fell neatly for Müller who tapped home past Ederson to send the travelling fans into raptures. It now meant Benfica would need three more goals to advance to the semi finals.
Bayern were relentless in their attacking of Benfica’s back four. Two minutes after Müller’s goal, Douglas Costa was played through on the counter but his poor touch gave Ederson enough time to dive at his compatriot’s feet and snuff out the danger.
Costa was then involved again on the hour when he was sent through on goal a second time. He fired a low shot across a diving Ederson but hit the far post and rebounded to safety to keep Benfica’s slim chances alive.
Benfica did their best to rally the troops and both André Almeida and Gonçalo Guedes, on as a 57th minute substitute for Pizzi, had efforts from range. Almeida’s was well-tipped over the bar by Manuel Neuer but Guedes’ ultimately failed to trouble the German national team stopper.
In the 68th minute Bayern again had the ball in the Benfica net. This time it didn’t count though, as David Alaba was adjudged to be offside when his low cross found Müller at the far post to tap home. And about five minutes later, Müller was again involved as he held the ball up and laid it off for the advancing Vidal. The Chilean then fired what appeared to be a tame shot that should’ve been routine for Ederson to gather. However, in an uncharacteristic error by the Brazilian, he let it slip through his hands and just about managed to get enough on it to send the ball wide of the post.
With just 16 minutes left of normal time on the clock, some hope for Benfica. Guedes caused major problems for Javi Martínez and had the beating of the Spanish centre-back. Advancing on goal, the Portugal international was then brought down on the edge of the box. With the crowd baying for a red card, Bjorn Kuipers produced only a yellow which brought an animated response from Rui Vitória on the touchline. However, Benfica will feel a modicum of justice as Talisca stepped up to curl a delicious free-kick over the wall and into Neuer’s top-near corner. 2-2 on the night and 2-3 on aggregate.
With five minutes left on the clock, Talisca nearly got in on the act again. This time, the Brazilian was the one brought down in a similar position to Guedes. The substitute then stepped up to hit another superb free kick but, this time, it fizzed agonisingly wide of the far post.
Lewandowski had been brought on at 84 minutes and had a superb chance to put Benfica to the sword. Through on goal and with space, the Polish striker was unable to get any considerable power behind the shot and Ederson was able to deal with it comfortably.
At the death, Luka Jovic (on for Eliseu in the 88th minute), found himself the recipient of a superb ball over the top by Talisca. In the box and with the time to shoot, the young Serb was unable to fire past Neuer, signalling Kuipers to blow the final whistle and end Benfica’s Champions League campaign for another season.
This was always going to be a tough tie for Benfica, made even more difficult by missing key players. However, the side was applauded off the pitch by the Luz faithful at the final whistle, and rightly so. These players gave everything of themselves over the two legs and asked some real questions of one of the finest club sides in the world.
Benfica fans show their appreciation for team's efforts tonight. pic.twitter.com/DZgVMGeCXJ— Tom Kundert (@PortuGoal1) April 13, 2016
Over both legs, special mention must go to Ederson. Second choice at the Luz, he may well provide some real competition for Júlio César in the future. The relatively inexperienced, Victor Lindelöf, also performed admirably alongside the more experienced Jardel. A lot of credit must go to oft-maligned Rui Vitória for bringing the youth along.
When you consider the likes of Ederson, Lindelöf, Guedes, Talisca and Renato Sanches are all aged 22 and under, and then supplement them with the likes of Nélson Semedo, the future seems very bright indeed for Benfica. The club has a very realistic chance of winning the Liga NOS title this season and will doubtless be an even stronger force to be reckoned with in the Champions League in 2016-17. One only hopes they can keep a hold of these talented youngsters, for the vultures will surely begin to circle the Luz this summer.
Benfica: Ederson - André Almeida, Lindelöf, Jardel (C), Eliseu (Jovic 86') - Fejsa, Renato Sanches, Salvio (Talisca 67'), Pizzi (Gonçalo Guedes 58'), Carcela - Raúl Jiménez.
Bayern: Neuer - Lahm (C), Kimmich, Martínez, Alaba - Alonso (Bernat 88'), Vidal, Thiago, Costa, Ribéry (Götze 89') - Müller (Lewandowski 82').
by Paul Gellard