Benfica beat Marítimo 2-1 in a thrilling Taça da Liga final played in Coimbra tonight to complete another memorable season for the Eagles and their coach Jorge Jesus.
A fine Jonas header gave the Lisbon club a first-half lead, and Marítimo looked in trouble when defender Raul Silva was sent off early in the second half.
But the islanders showed tremendous fighting spirit and scored a wonderful equaliser through João Diogo. With a penalty shoot-out looming, Benfica substitute Ola John was the unlikely hero, scoring the winner which gave Benfica their 6th victory in the competition in eight years since it began.
Benfica, despite playing without the injured Salvio, came into the game big favourites having won the two league games between the sides this season 4-0 and 4-1, the latter just last week. But from early on it was clear this was going to be no walkover, Marítimo showing a fiercely competitive attitude from the off.
Early chances at both ends
Gaitán was the first to threaten, shooting over, but Marítimo hit back with Xavier and Danilo coming close to scoring in quick succession. Lima missed a golden chance to open the scoring on 20 minutes when he raced clean through but dragged his shot wide of Salin's goal.
Benfica took the lead in the 37th minute with a well worked set-piece. Pizzi delivered a long diagonal free kick to far post where Jardel hooked the ball back across the box and Jonas produced an accurate header into the corner of the net.
The first half had been a lively affair, but the opening of the second period was absolutely electric. Xavier and Lima both came close to scoring immediately upon the restart, then Marítimo suffered a blow as a reckless off-the-ball tug on Gaitán by Raul Silva resulted in a second yellow card and subsequent red for the Marítimo centre-back.
Marítimo hit back
Ivo Vieira's men refused to lie down however, continuing to implement an aggressive game blended with some excellent passing football, as exemplified when they conjured up a superb equaliser. Substitute Fransérgio threaded a peach of a throughball to find João Diogo, who matched his perfectly timed run with a classy finish past Júlio César.
At that stage it was anyone's game, with Marítimo showing no ill effects of playing with one fewer player.
As the clock ticked down, however, Benfica began to gain a clear ascendency, which was accentuated when Ola John came on and began causing havoc down the left wing. Lima, Jonas and Maxi all missed glaring chances to restore the lead for the Eagles before John took advantage of some skilful play by Jonas to fire into the net from close range in the 80th minute.
Benfica held on to add a back-to-back Taça da Liga to their back-to-back championship triumph.
by Tom Kundert
Júlio César, Maxi Pereira, Luisão, Jardel, Eliseu, Sulejmani (Ola John, 74'), Pizzi (Talisca, 69'), Samaris, Gaitán, Jonas, Lima (Fejsa, 84')
Salin, Briguel, Patrick Bauer, Raúl Silva, Rúben Ferreira, Danilo Pereira, Alex Soares (Fransérgio, 51'), Bruno Gallo, João Diogo, Marega (Igor Rossi, 75'), Xavier (Éber, 62')
[1-0] Jonas, 37'
[1-1] João Diogo, 56'
[2-1] Ola John, 80'