Benfica 1-0 Borussia Dortmund
A memorable match in Lisbon saw Benfica escape with victory despite being outplayed for 90 minutes by an impressive Borussia Dortmund side.
Kostas Mitroglou's goal early in the second half, a succession of glaring misses by the normally lethal Aubameyang and a wondrous goalkeeping display by Benfica No.1 Ederson mean the Portuguese champions will travel to Germany in three weeks with a precious lead in the tie.
Benfica's star striker Jonas failed a late fitness test on a neck injury and the in-form Zivkovic was suspended, but despite being deprived of two of his most potent attacking weapons coach Rui Vitória selected an attacking line-up. Wingers Salvio, Carrillo and Rafa Silva were all in the starting line-up, Rafa expected to play a support role behind striker Kostas Mitroglou.
Dortmund were without the injured Mario Gotze, but with the mobile and rapid front three of Aubameyang, Reus and Dembélé, ably supplied by Portugal's European Champion Raphael Guerreiro and Julian Weigl, the Germans were not exactly short of firepower.
A frantic opening five minutes, with Dembélé for the visitors and Salvio for Benfica having half-chances, suggested we could be in for a classic. But the balance of play soon tipped the Germans' way, with Benfica often struggling to get out of their own half as they had no answer to the energetic pressing, constant movement and slick passing of Thomas Tuchel's team.
In the 10th minute Dembélé robbed the ball off Pizzi and immediately released Aubameyang, but with just Ederson to beat the Gabonese striker fired over the bar. Dembélé then came close as a wave of Borussia pressure saw the ball break to him ten yards out, but a combination of Lindelöf and Ederson kept his shot out.
Luisão, playing his 500th game for Benfica, was called on time and again to make vital interceptions, both on the ground and in the air as Benfica's inability to get any meaningful possession in midfield allowed the visitors to create constant danger.
Despite the Benfica captain's valiant efforts, it seemed only a matter of time before Dortmund would score. Raphael Guerreiro did well to surprise Fejsa and knock a low cross across goal that the sliding Aubameyang just failed to knock into the net.
Dortmund's players furiously remonstrated with the referee shortly before half time as Ederson committed the exact same error that got him sent off against Arouca last Friday, racing out of goal, missing his clearance and instead connecting with the opposition player, in this case Dembélé, who needed extensive treatment. The referee waved away the German protests.
At half time Vitória bolstered Benfica's midfield by bringing on recent signing Filipe Augusto for Carrillo, and the home team started well after the break, showing more aggression and at last asking questions of the Dortmund defence. And the hosts were immediately rewarded as Luisão met a corner with a towering header which Mitroglou controlled practically on the goal-line before poking the ball into the net to spark wild celebrations in the stadium.
The game then reverted to the pattern of the first half, with Dortmund largely bossing the game. On 53 minutes Aubameyang again missed a glaring chance as he skied the ball over the bar with just Ederson to beat, then the Brazilian goalkeeper did fantastically well to dive full length and keep out Piszczek's fierce 25-yard effort.
Hopefully Aubameyang will be on the plane back to Dortmund. Bit worried he’ll miss the flight.— Luca Gierl (@LucaGierl) February 14, 2017
That was just the start of the "Ederson show". In the 58th minute the referee pointed to the penalty spot as Fejsa handled in the box but Aubameyang's miserable night continued as he hit the spot kick straight down the middle, with the static Ederson able to parry the ball out without moving his feet, and the defence hacking the rebound away.
Dortmund continued to pour forward and create chances, but the inspired 23-year-old goalkeeper - in front of the watching Taffarel, now part of the Brazil national team coaching staff - stopped everything thrown at him, including an astonishing reaction save in the closing minutes from a powerful Pulisic volley that took a wicked deflection of Jiménez.
The home fans did their bit to help push Benfica over the line, with thunderous cheers greeting the referee's full-time whistle. Although it was by no means a vintage Benfica display, a fantastic night's entertainment ended with the Portuguese team giving themselves a real shot at making the Champions League quarter-finals for the second season running. A finely balanced tie makes for a fascinating and difficult to predict second leg on 8 March. For betting tips go to SBAT's betting tips.
Rui Vitória knows his team must improve drastically to survive the second leg, but he would undoubtedly have taken a one-nil win if offered before the match. "It was fundamental not to concede goals. We beat a very good team. It will be tough (in Dortmund), but in 17 Champions League matches (last season and this) we've only failed to score once, at Bayern Munich, and this gives us belief," he said.
by Tom Kundert, at the Estádio da Luz
Benfica: Ederson, Nélson Semedo, Luisão, Lindelöf, Eliseu, Fejsa, Pizzi, Salvio, Rafa (Cervi, 67'), Carrillo (Filipe Augusto, 46'), Mitroglou (Raúl Jiménez, 75')
Borussia Dortmund: Bürki, Piszczek, Sokratis, Bartra, Schmelzer, Durm, Weigl, Raphael Guerreiro (Gonzalo Castro, 82'), Dembelé, Reus (Pulisic, 82'), Aubameyang (Schürrle, 62')
[1-0] Mitroglou, 48'