Benfica 1-1 Estoril (Estoril win penalty shootout 5-4)
Estoril caused a shock in Leiria tonight, knocking Benfica out of the Portuguese league cup with a penalty shootout victory after an entertaining semi-final had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.
An early goal from the ever-impressive Rafik Guitane gave Estoril a half-time lead. Benfica captain Nicolás Otamendi equalised on the hour mark, but despite creating several clear chances the Eagles could not score the winner.
Saturday’s final will be the least expected matchup before the final four phase of the competition began yesterday with Braga and Estoril knocking out Lisbon giants Sporting and Benfica on successive nights.
Tonight’s semi-final bore similarities to Braga’s 1-0 victory over Sporting yesterday, in that the favourites to win the match largely dominated proceedings and created by far the better chances but were let down by poor finishing.
Estoril’s strong run of form when Vasco Seabra took over had taken a knock in recent weeks as his young team endured a four-match losing run. Undeterred and refusing to compromise his open attacking style of play, Seabra sent his team out to play against Benfica and got an early reward.
Neat play down the left flank in the 16th minute between Heriberto Tavares and Rodrigo Gomes saw the ball played to Rafik Guintane in the box, the French playmaker showing superb control, dribbling skills and awareness to create space for himself and fire a low shot past Trubin into the net.
Benfica soon had a golden chance to equalise, Kökçü playing Aursnes in behind the Estoril defence and the Norwegian sent a perfect low cross into the path of Rafa Silva, but the forward was denied by a brilliant reflex save by Dani Figueira.
The Eagles continued to push for an equaliser, a series of wickedly delivered corners by Ángel Di María causing panic in the Estoril back line. The Argentine seemed certain to equalise in the 36th minute when put clean through on goal, but he could not get the ball out from his feet and a weak shot straight at Figueira was saved.
In the second half the pattern of the match did not change, Benfica pouring forward at every opportunity but Estoril showing skill and courage to play through midfield whenever they got the chance and not just park the bus.
Captain Otamendi leads by example
The pressure eventually told when Otamendi lent his weight to the attack, the centre-back winning the ball deep in Estoril’s half then running into the box and producing an excellent finish from 15 yards out after being set up by a clever Petar Musa dummy.
Both sides made a series of substitutions, and the chances kept coming for Benfica. Rafa shot over the bar from a promising position before new Brazilian striker Marcos Leonardo seemed certain to make it three goals off the bench in three matches since his signing but he steered his shot from inside the box wide of the post with just Figueira to beat.
Spectacular shot and save
In the final moments of stoppage time Di María almost won it for Benfica with an astonishing 25-yard volley, forcing Figueira into an exceptional diving save to push the ball onto the post.
Estoril won the penalty shootout lottery after misses by two of Benfica’s late substitutes Marcos Leonardo and Tiago Araújo.
It is only the second time in the 17-year history of the Taça da Liga that the final will feature none of Portugal’s traditional big three, the other occasion in 2016/17 when Moreirense overcame Braga. Artur Jorge’s team have been warned…
By Tom Kundert