Benfica breezed past Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg, winning 5-1 to go through 7-1 on aggregate.
The result was never in doubt at Estádio da Luz, Gonçalo Ramos assisting Rafa for the opener in the 37th minute before scoring two goals either side of the break.
There was no way back for the Belgian club who were continually on the back foot, João Mário netting another penalty and David Neres scoring a fifth goal before Bjorn Meijer’s late consolation.
Roger Schmidt, his side and all Benfica supporters will be eagerly awaiting the quarter-final draw.
Benfica put the ball into the back of the net in the opening minute of the match. Gonçalo Ramos started the move which resulted in João Mário converting Alexander Bah’s cross, the goal ruled out after Ramos had strayed offside.
Hans Vanaken headed Casper Nielsen’s cross wide, but it was a brief respite for the visitors with the Eagles taking control in Lisbon.
The chances kept coming, Mário selflessly cutting the ball back for Florentino who fired wide. A great team move saw Alejandro Grimaldo race into the box and pick out Mário, the midfielder looking certain to score before Bjorn Meijer miraculously cleared the ball off the line.
Roman Yaremchuk headed Lang’s cross wide but the former Benfica striker was feeding off scraps up front. The visitors were given a chance in the 29th minute when Nicolás Otamendi fouled Tajon Buchanan on the edge of the area, Hans Vanaken firing the free kick into the wall.
Benfica finally got the goal they deserved in the 38th minute. Ramos went on a long run down the left wing and played a perfect pass for Rafa Silva, the playmaker cutting inside a halfhearted challenge from Casper Nielsen and steering the ball into the bottom corner.
Ramos did it all himself in added time, collecting Mário’s pass and dancing past three defenders before blasting the ball into the bottom corner.
Scott Parker’s side were 4-0 down on aggregate and no chance of turning the tie around, the manager admitting as much at half time when he replaced Noa Lang with Raphael Onyedika.
Goals continue to flow
It had no effect with Benfica continuing where they left off and adding a third goal in the 57th minute. Fredrik Aursnes released Grimaldo, his cross perfectly positioned for Ramos who found a yard of space and beat Simon Mignolet from close range.
Parker brought on Denis Odoi and Ferran Jutglà for Clinton Mata and Yaremchuk, Roger Schmidt bringing on Gilberto and David Neres for Bah and Chiquinho.
Club Brugge’s evening went from bad to worse in the 71st minute when they fell 4-0 behind.
It was a sequence to forget for Abakar Sylla, the 20-year-old defender losing possession and conceding a penalty for an amateurish challenge on Gilberto. João Mário was never going to miss from the spot, netting his 20th goal of the season.
Six minutes later Benfica made it 5-0. Ramos, Rafa and João Neves combined to send Neres through on goal, the Brazilian picking his spot and steering the ball past Mignolet.
Bjorn Meijer scored with a sensational strike in the 88th minute, the very definition of a consolation goal as Benfica look ahead to the quarter-finals.
Benfica were far too good for Club Brugge, the Belgian side a shadow of the team that beat Porto 4-0 at Estádio Do Dragão in September. Replacing Carl Hoefkens with Scott Parker was not a wise move.
Regardless, the Eagles did what they do best, particularly the fluent front three operating behind Gonçalo Ramos. The movement of Rafa, João Mário and Frekrik Aursnes is extremely difficult for opposition defences to handle, Brugge discovering that the hard way.
Mário’s guile, experience and positional play had been a big reason for Benfica’s success this season. He has been ever present, Schmidt extracting all the talent available the 30-year-old who has registered seven assists and 20 goals, eleven of them from the penalty spot.
Rafa’s end product continues to keep him below elite level, but he is very useful for Benfica and is involved in orchestrating so many goals without receiving assists.
Aursnes’ versatility has been a real surprise since moving to Lisbon, Schmidt moving him back to his preferred position on the left wing despite having specialist wingers on the bench in David Neres, Andreas Schjelderup and Gonçalo Guedes.
Gonçalo Ramos’ ability is no secret anymore, so many of his goals scored by getting a yard in front of opposition defenders and netting from close range. His link up play may go under the radar, but his value is surely increasing after every goal. The 21-year-old has now scored 22 goals for club and country including an incredible hat-trick in his first start for Portugal.
Benfica will undoubtedly face superior opposition in the quarter-finals. With the Eagles inching closer towards the Primeira Liga title each week, it’s going to be fascinating to see how far the Eagles can fly in the Champions League.
By Matthew Marshall at Estádio da Luz