Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 Benfica (agg. 4-4, Eintracht win on away goals)
Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Benfica 2-0 at the Waldstadion to advance to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.
An offside Filip Kostic goal and Sebastian Rode strike clinched a famous victory, the result overturning the first leg 4-2 defeat in Lisbon as the German club go through on away goals. Ante Rebic was outstanding for Frankfurt, but it was a total team effort roared on by an passionate and raucous home support. The Portuguese club will lament the offside goal but were largely second best throughout the contest.
Benfica’s João Félix started brightly with the teenage sensation looking to build on his hat-trick in the first leg. Eintracht quickly took control however, with Filip Kostic testing Odisseas Vlachodimos from distance.
Kostic was driving forward on the left wing, combining well with Simon Falette and Ante Rebic to keep Benfica on the back foot. Falette in particular started strongly in his first appearance since 26 January.
Rebic broke free after Ludomiv Fejsa’s loose header but couldn’t get a shot away. Luka Jovic started to get involved but Benfica were defending well with Andreas Samaris and Lubomir Fejsa sitting deep.
Rebic and Jovic continued to probe for openings, Rebic starting the move that resulted in Frankfurt’s opener. The Croatian teed up Mijat Gacinovic who hit the post from outside the box, the ball falling to Kostic who finished from close range.
Kostic was clearly offside, but with VAR currently not in use in the Europa League referee Daniele Orsato couldn’t overturn the decision. Benfica manager Bruno Lage was sent to the stands for protesting as his side went into half-time trailing 1-0 without registering a shot on target.
Benfica started the second half well, Félix and Gedson Fernandes inspiring the visitors who went close to equalising. A 1-2 between the youngsters saw Félix drive to the byline, his cross deflected narrowly wide by Falette.
Fernandes was dropping deeper and seeing plenty of ball as a Samaris ball over the defence found Haris Seferovic who headed tamely at Kevin Trapp. Benfica were increasingly looking for counter-attack opportunities without giving much away.
Falette was winning the individual battle against Rafa as Frankfurt wrestled back control, Gacinovic cutting inside from left wing and curling an effort narrowly wide. A Makoto Hasebe long ball then found Rebic who powered forward, his cross finding Jovic who saw his shot blocked by Jardel.
Second goal inevitable
With the home crowd’s incessant chanting driving their team forward it seemed inevitable that a second goal would arrive. Rúben Dias' poor clearance saw Danny da Costa head back in the danger zone where Rebic fortunately set up Sebastian Rode who produced a fine finish past Vlachodimos.
Benfica had to act with Pizzi on for Samaris and Eduardo Salvio replacing Rafa. Rode tested Vlachodimos with a curling effort as Jovic made way for Gonçalo Paciência.
Félix headed a free kick over the bar as the Portuguese club made their final change, Jonas replacing André Almeida. Benfica’s time was running out as Frankfurt defended for their lives, Rebic getting stuck in but a little too enthusiastically as he picked up a caution.
Salvio hits the woodwork
Benfica’s best chance came in the 85th minute as Grimaldo’s cross found Salvio at the back post with his shot hitting the woodwork. Sebastian Rode was replaced by Lucas Torró as Gedson Fernandes shot over from distance but it was too little too late.
Falette made way for Jetro Willems as Frankfurt killed the clock and celebrated a famous victory. Eintracht moved into the semi-finals after overcoming adversity in the first leg by battling back with 10 men, the win in Frankfurt coming without Evan Ndicka, Martin Hinteregger and Sebastien Haller.
Benfica threw away a glorious chance to advance after failing to drive home their numerical advantage in Lisbon. They appeared to approached this with containment in mind, wasting time early on and failing to impose themselves on the contest until it was too late.
Ultimately the Portuguese club were unable to overcome an intimidating atmosphere and were outplayed for most of the match. The offside opening goal was a crucial moment that will leave a bitter taste for many Benfiquistas, but Frankfurt showed their quality throughout the 180 minutes with Chelsea their next opponents.
Man of the Match
Ante Rebic hasn't been as prolific as his attacking partners Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller this season, but he stood up in Haller's absence in both legs against Benfica and was the main instigator in Frankfurt. Rebic bounced around the front line, getting Jovic and his teammates involved and probing for openings.
Rebic started the move that saw Kostic score the opener and provided the assist for Rode's winner. He stepped up by showing characteristic spirit and determination that personified Eintracht's performance when the team needed to defend for their lives during the final 10 minutes.
Benfica head coach Bruno Lage was disappointed at the offside goal and his sending off: "The referee will probably look at the first Eintracht Frankfurt goal and realise he made a mistake. My sending off? In the Europa League we have a small monitor next to the bench. I saw the goal was clearly offside, went to the fourth official and told him, making a VAR sign, and I was sent off for that. After 354 games for Benfica at different levels, being sent off for the first time like this of course leaves me upset."
He also acknowledged that Benfica's performance was lacking "It's true that it (offside goal) affected us because it gave a goal to our opponents, but we have to look at our own game and understand where we weren't so strong as in the 1st leg. We have to reflect on that. This is an important month for us. It's the time to be united for these five finals we have got left, after making a fantastic recovery in the league. I firmly believe we have a team and have players that will give the fans enormous joy!"
Eintracht Frankfurt's Portuguese striker Gonçalo Paciência was thrilled and praised the home support: "We deserve it, it was fantastic night for us, they help us a lot and it’s a night that will be always on our mind for the next years. This is amazing, the fans and the choreography that they did its fantastic for us. I don’t have words to describe it."
"We beat a big team in Benfica, a team in the world that has more titles, we know they would create opportunities against us but for the first 70-80 minutes it was Eintracht that controlled all the game. Of course Benfica have quality and created chances, but I think we controlled all the game."
Danny da Costa said "It’s difficult to describe, it’s overwhelming what we did today. We knew we had to push from the beginning and had to play a perfect game. I think we reached it in an unbelievable way and with the fans behind our backs it was just a crazy night."
"Especially in the first half we had good control, we knew we have a lot of quality up front and we believed all the time that we can score twice."
Head coach Adi Hütter was proud and singled out two players for special praise: "The journey continues! What the team did was amazing; the tifo and atmosphere helped create a memorable European evening. It was a very strong performance from the team. We’ve now beaten three Champions League teams on the way here. I’m very proud of the team and they deserve to be where they are."
"It was a perfect game and a perfect evening. I want to speak about two players in particular: Simon Falette and Ante Rebic, who was the best player on the pitch. Simon embodied all the qualities that set us apart."
By Matthew Marshall