Two points lost or one point gained? That is the question for Benfica’s coach, players and fans after an exciting 2-2 draw was played out on a quagmire of a pitch under torrential rain in Guimarães tonight.
Immediately after the final whistle Vitória were in no doubt about the injustice of the result. Man-of-the-match Jota Silva and coach Álvaro Pacheco both said that the hosts deserved the three points in their flash interviews.
On the balance of play and chances created, it is difficult not to sympathise with that opinion.
That the hosts did not walk away with the win is largely down to a football genius named Ángel Di María, who even in awful conditions conjured up two fantastic assists as the Eagles twice came from behind, and goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin, who made a number of crucial saves throughout the 90 minutes.
Benfica coach Roger Schmidt pulled off a surprise by not picking any recognised striker in his starting XI, leaving the considerable firepower of Arthur Cabral, Casper Tengstedt and Marcos Leonardo on the bench.
Vitória take control
Vitória started much the stronger team, Trubin saving sharply from the impressive Jota in the very first minute as the home team adapted better to the difficult conditions.
Benfica came close to taking the lead midway through the first half as Orkun Kökçü forced Charles into a flying save to tip his free kick over the bar.
Back came Vitória, Trubin pulling off an even more impressive stop as he dived full-length to tip a goal-bound Nuno Santos shot around the post.
However, the Benfica defence failed to deal with the subsequent corner, Kökçü tripping up Tomás Ribeiro for a stonewall penalty. Captain Tiago Silva stepped up and confidently smashed the ball high into the net to send the home supporters into delirium.
The lead did not last long. A well-worked move down the right flank gave Di María a crossing opportunity, the Argentine producing a sumptuous delivery with the outside of his foot to allow Rafa Silva an easy finish.
Hosts back on top
The second half ended as it began, with Vitória applying pressure and almost scoring through Tomás Ribeiro and Nuno Santos, both close to restoring the lead for the Vitorianos.
Schmidt made two changes at the break bringing on Arthur Cabral and Florentino Luís for João Mário and Kökçü, and Benfica started the second half brightly.
As the minutes ticked by though, Vitória again got on top. Jota headed into the net in the 56th minute but he was offside and the same player caused panic in the Benfica defence moments later with some clever wing play and a rasping cross-shot that Trubin beat away.
Silvas combine in style
You sensed a goal was coming for the home team and it duly arrived on the hour mark. A lovely team move saw the ball rapidly worked to Jota Silva on the right wing, his cut-back steered expertly into the net by André Silva.
Benfica were given a boost soon afterwards as central defender Toni Borevkovic lost his head and launched himself into a dangerous challenge that left Florentino in a heap of the ground writhing in pain. An obvious red card and the visitors had around 30 minutes with an extra man to try and turn around the result.
In the 72nd minute Charles produced an excellent reaction save from a point-blank Rafa header.
One minute later and Vitória had a golden chance to increase their lead. The indefatigable Jota Silva sped past António Silva and was one on one against Trubin, the Ukrainian saving superbly with his outstretched leg.
Despite being a man down Vitória were relatively comfortable as they defended their lead, with the fans doing their utmost to get their team over the line.
Di María magic
Di María had other ideas. The World Cup winner created space for himself out of nothing with some typically quick-footed ball skills before sending over a peach of a cross for Cabral to head firmly into the net.
Benfica’s players raced to get the ball back to the centre circle and restart the game in the hope of grabbing a winner in the six minutes of stoppage time, but no further chances were created at either end and the spoils were shared.
The draw was enough to keep Benfica top of the table, albeit only on the head-to-head result as they move level on 52 points with Lisbon rivals Sporting, although the Lions have a game in hand.
by Tom Kundert