Benfica defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 4-2 in a highly entertaining Europa League quarter-final first leg at the Estádio da Luz.
João Félix was the star of the show with a hat-trick, but Eintracht will feel they have a chance to overturn the deficit in Frankfurt after playing 70 minutes with 10 men following Evan Ndicka’s straight red card.
Eagles vs Eagles
It was all about the battle of the Eagles as Benfica took on Eintracht Frankfurt for the first time. Both managers appeared to be cautious with their starting lineups, Haris Seferovic on the bench for Benfica and Frankfurt manager Adi Hütter pushing Makoto Hasebe into a holding midfield role.
Luka Jovic missed two difficult chances early on as both teams struggled to find their rhythm. The game came to life in the 20th minute when a well worked team move saw Félix feed Gedson Fernandes in the box, he was taken down from behind by Evan Ndicka with referee Anthony Taylor issuing a straight red card and awarding a penalty.
19-year-old Félix took responsibility and buried it in the bottom corner to put the hosts in front. The movement from Felix and Gedson was causing Frankfurt all sorts of problems, justifying manager Bruno Lage’s decision to start Swiss striker Seferovic on the bench.
Ante Rebic earned himself a caution for dissent before having a shot deflected wide, but he would soon make amends by teeing up Jovic for the equaliser. Lubomir Fejsa dawdled on the ball, was robbed by Sebastian Rode with Rebic skipping past Rúben Dias and setting up Jovic who made no mistake.
Fierce Felix strike regains lead
Eintracht’s joy was short lived however, Frankfurt failing to close down Félix who unleashed a rocket into the bottom corner. Kevin Trapp made a despairing dive and got the slightest of touches on it, but the ferocity and swerve was too much to handle.
Franco Cervi saw a shot from close range tipped over by Trapp before the visitors had an equaliser ruled out for offside on the stroke of half-time. A well worked free kick routine saw Filip Kostic beat Odisseas Vlachodimos, but three Frankfurt players were offside including Danny da Costa who did enough to impede Benfica’s goalkeeper.
The second half began with Rafa hitting the post from an offside position but Benfica would soon make it 3-1. Luka Jovic failed to clear a routine corner which was steered towards goal by Félix, Rúben Dias with the simplest of tasks heading home from a yard out.
Three minutes later it was 4-1. A simple move down the left wing saw Alejandro Grimaldo square to an unmarked Félix, the rising star side footed home through the legs of Hasebe and Trapp with the floodgates threatening to open.
Lage replaced Rafa with Haris Seferovic and Adi Hütter took off Jovic for Jonathan de Guzman in a curious move for the visitors which would soon be vindicated. The changes kept coming as Pizzi replaced right-back Sébastien Corchia and former Porto striker Gonçalo Paciência came on for Rebic.
Paciência stuns home supporters
Félix collected a long goal kick and sent Seferovic through on goal which forced a fine save from Trapp, but out of nowhere Frankfurt pulled a goal back. A corner was met by Paciência who sent a looping header over Vlachomidos into the top corner with the home crowd stunned.
Kostic blazed over from a tight angle after being set up by Paciência with both managers making their final substitutions. Andreas Samaris made way for Andrija Zivkovic and Mijat Gacinovic replaced Sebastian Rode but there would be no further goals in an enthralling game of football.
It was a deceptive result as Benfica will be disappointed not to have put the tie to bed. They were close to going 5-1 up which would surely been an unassailable lead, but they allowed Frankfurt to narrow the gap which will give the German club hope of turning it around at the Waldstadion.
Eintracht showed tremendous courage to stay in the tie despite going a man down in the 20th minute. The likely return of Sébastien Haller shouldn’t be underestimated, expect the French striker to have an impact in front of what will be another capacity crowd and magical atmosphere in Frankfurt.
Man of the Match
No surprise here with João Félix the hat-trick hero as he announced himself to a wider audience. Many in Portugal have been aware of his talents in a breakout season, he was influential throughout, a joy to watch and added a few million onto this market value.
João Félix also became the youngest-ever Portuguese player to score a hat-trick in Europe tonight. Previous record holder? Eusébio.— Andy Brassell (@andybrassell) April 11, 2019
The youngster caused Frankfurt frequent problems with his movement, intelligently finding space between the lines which made space for his teammates. Félix displayed confidence with the opening penalty and his second goal was a thing of beauty. He beat Jovic to assist Dias for Benfica's third, scored Benfica’s fourth and went close to another assist with Seferovic’s shot saved by Trapp.
Unfortunate not to see some playing time in Portugal’s recent UEFA 2020 European Championship qualifiers, it won’t be long before we see Félix earn his first senior international cap.
Benfica boss Bruno Lage was upbeat despite knowing his side had a great opportunity to take a commanding lead: "It's a very positive result for us; we played against a great team. When we were 4-1 up we could have controlled the match better." Rúben Dias shared a similar sentiment: "We played a great game against an extremely strong team that hadn't lost for a long time. It's true we could have gone 5-1 up through Seferovic and gone to Germany in a more comfortable position, but it's still a good result."
Winger Franco Cervi knows the tie is definitely not over: "We played a great game but even if they hadn't scored the 2nd goal the tie wouldn't have been over. We have to play another great game in Germany to get through."
Eintracht Frankfurt manager Adi Hütter appeared pleased with the result despite the setbacks: "The early red card obviously made it difficult for us. There were periods when our shape wasn’t good, particularly at the start of the second half. But overall, it was a great performance from my team. We played really well here with 10 men for 70 minutes, so we still have every chance in the second leg. I’m expecting fireworks now in Frankfurt. We’ll need a perfect day at home but I’m convinced we can beat Benfica."
Wing-back Danny Da Costa was pleased despite the club losing their first match in 2019: "To stand your ground against a team of this quality with 10 men is extremely difficult, but we did it well. We’re still alive and have the chance to get to the next round. We have to believe. If we do that, and with the fans behind us, we can produce a great performance."
Gonçalo Paciência understood the significance of his goal and believes Frankfurt are the stronger team: "My goal was important. I was in the right place. Now it’s vital we win by two goals in the return leg. Our two goals tonight were important, and of course we still have a chance of winning. We need our fans, they’re our 12th man. We have to believe in ourselves. We’re stronger than Benfica, as we’ve shown."
by Matthew Marshall