Benfica will be in Friday’s Europa League draw after beating Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 in Lisbon to reach the last eight thanks to fine goals from well-struck shots by Jonas, Ferro and Grimaldo. It was also a great night for former Benfica favourite Gonçalo Guedes, who struck a dramatic late goal to earn Valencia a place in the last eight of the competition.
In terms of other Portuguese involvement, it was a disappointing night for Daniel Carriço and André Silva as 5-time Europa League winners Sevilla crashed out in Prague, while Gonçalo Paciência’s Frankfurt eliminated Cédric Soares’ Inter and Napoli, with Mário Rui, went through at the expense of Salzburg.
Benfica 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb
Benfica coach Bruno Lage has used this competition to blood several of Benfica’s promising academy talents, and despite starting the second leg trailing 1-0, the manager stuck to his rotation policy as left-back Yuri and exciting forward Jota were given the nod, while Zivkovic also got a rare start.
For a long time it looked like the decision to go with a new-look team might backfire, especially during an insipid first half with little action of note. A tame Pizzi shot straight at the goalkeeper and a skidding Rafa effort that forced Livakovic into a sprawling save were the only incidents of note in a forgettable first 45 minutes.
Lage acted swiftly, bringing on Jonas and Grimaldo (for Zivkovic and Yuri) at the break. Benfica showed more urgency and invention, but with less than 20 minutes remaining the crowd were getting increasingly anxious as the Croats continued to hold the lead they brought from the first leg.
Jonas makes the breakthrough
But just before panic stations were reached, Jonas got the all-important breakthrough. Ferro played a vertical ball into the box to Pizzi, who headed it back to Jonas on the edge of the area, with the Brazilian cleverly making space for himself and firing into the corner of the net from 18 yards.
Jonas stung Livakovic’s hands soon afterwards with a rasping effort from outside the box, and at the death Vlachodimos had to be alert at a corner to avert what would have been a killer goal for the visitors in stoppage time.
After 180 minutes without much to choose between the teams, Benfica finally began to show their superiority, building up a head of steam against a tired-looking opposition. Ferro continued his magnificent start to senior football with a brilliant 25-yard thunderbolt to put Benfica ahead for the first time in the tie in the 5th minute of extra time.
Liga Europa | @SLBenfica x @gnkdinamo | 2-0 |— SPORT TV (@SPORTTVPortugal) March 14, 2019
⚽ Ferro 94' | Bomba do defesa-central, que deixa as águias na frente da eliminatória. #UEL #SLBDZG @EuropaLeague #ValeoBilhete
11 Ligas | 7 Taças | 2.000 jogos | Mais de 55.000 horas de desporto pic.twitter.com/K2CybpAoV1
Dinamo immediately missed a golden opportunity to score and retake the lead in the tie, on away goals, but Osijek fluffed his lines. It proved a pivotal moment as soon Benfica were another goal to the good thanks to another brilliant long-range effort, this time from Grimaldo.
Still alive on three fronts this season, Benfica now await what the draw brings them.
Guedes the hero for Valencia
Valencia were thirty seconds from elimination at the hands of Russians Krasnodar in one of the evening’s early kick offs. However, Portuguese international Gonçalo Guedes came to the rescue with a goal in the final minute of injury time and send the Spanish side into the quarter final draw.
With the first leg ending 2-1 in favour of Valencia, it appeared for much of the match that Los Ches were going to play out a goalless draw and advance by a single goal. However, Krasnodar scored on 85 minutes through Magomed Suleymanov to leave the visitors desperately needing a goal.
Guedes, who scored his first goal of the season at the weekend in La Liga, had been on the pitch since the 70th minute and provided the vital moment. Fellow substitute Kevin Gameiro cut the ball back to Guedes inside the area and the Portuguese showed superb composure in picking out the bottom corner.
"I feel really good and very happy,” Guedes told the press after the match. “It's always positive when you help a team with a goal that allows them to go through to the next stage. The important thing is that we are through. We always fight to win and to achieve our objectives
"We know that it isn't easy and that we're up against some very good opponents. We will gradually try to win every game and get a winning run together. We have to carry on like that. We're in three very important competitions and we want to go as far as possible in all of them. We have to give our all and believe, right up until the end."
For Guedes the goals in his last two games represent reward for his recovery from a difficult season. The 22-year-old played much of the early stages of the campaign carrying an injury, resulting in surgery in December and two months on the sidelines. Guedes has only completed 90 minutes twice this season as a consequence of such issues.
"I'm feeling better all the time,” he said. “It hasn't been at all easy, and I thought that things were going to go more quickly, but things don't always go how you want. I try to improve with every game and things are starting to work out well. I'm not at 100% still, but I want to get there as soon as possible."
Sevilla exit “difficult to explain” for Carriço
Sevilla’s hopes of a 6th Europa League crown were also ended in dramatic late fashion with an extra time loss at Slavia Prague. The teams drew the first leg 2-2 in Spain and the same scoreline led to an extra 30 minutes. Sevilla led 3-2 in extra time only for Slavia to pull level and score a winning goal in the 119th minute of the night.
Daniel Carriço played the full match for Sevilla, while André Silva came on ten minutes before the end of normal time. "It is difficult to explain,” Carriço said. “We have conceded four goals in a game at a very demanding physical level . We had to manage the ball better, keep possession, play in their half. We lost control of the match. I believe that we cannot question the attitude, we have left our soul on the field.”
“Sorry for the fans” - Cédric
One of the most intriguing ties of the last 16 saw Frankfurt produce a winning performance at San Siro to knock out Internazionale. The teams came into the match level at 0-0 on aggregate, but the tie was decided by Luka Jovic’s goal after 5 minutes which gave the German side a 1-0 victory in Milan.
Gonçalo Paciência came on for the final few minutes to help Frankfurt into the last eight, while Cédric Soares, who started at left-back before being replaced on the hour by Inter, was apologetic to the home support after the match. “We’re sorry, for the fans above all," he began. "We tried, it wasn’t impossible to turn it around after going behind. We had the quality to believe but something didn’t work tonight and it wasn’t our best day.
“Football is like that and things can change quickly. On Sunday, we have another key game against Milan. We have some players out but it’s normal for that to happen over a season and those who play need to give everything."
Elsewhere, Napoli were beaten 3-1 by Salzburg in Austria but advanced 4-3 on aggregate. The italians, who had Mário Rui at left-back, were always in command of the tie after going 1-0 ahead on the night through Arkadiusz Milik. Finally, Neto was an unused substitute as Russians Zenit lost 2-1 at Villarreal in Spain to go out 5-2 on aggregate.
By Tom Kundert & Sean Gillen