Sporting hold off Benfica fightback to make Portuguese Cup final after 2-2 thriller at the Luz

Benfica 2-2 Sporting (aggregate: 3-4)

An electric game at the Estádio da Luz ended 2-2, a scoreline which gave Sporting a 4-3 aggregate victory to book a place in the Portuguese Cup final at Jamor.

After weathering intense pressure from the home side in the first half, the Lions took the lead after the break through Morten Hjulmand, only for Benfica captain Nicolás Otamendi to equalise soon afterwards.

Paulinho restored Sporting’s lead on the night and two-goal advantage overall, but Benfica would not lie down and Rafa Silva’s equaliser restored the belief amongst the home supporters.

Franco Israel saved brilliantly from Di María and substitute Tiago Gouveia missed a golden opportunity, but Sporting held on and will play either Porto or Vitória in the final. 

Benfica boss Roger Schmidt opted for Casper Tengstedt up front, accommodating Ángel Di María, Rafa Silva and David Neres in attack behind the Danish striker, with João Neves and Florentino Luís continuing their ever-improving midfield partnership.

For Sporting Daniel Bragança kept his place in the side after positive recent displays and Ricardo Esgaio came in at right wing-back, with the usual starters Hidemasa Morita and Geny Catamo beginning the match on the bench.

Sporting were the first side to get a sight of goal. A corner found its way to Viktor Gyökeres at the second post, his scuffed shot into the ground bouncing up invitingly for Hjulmand, but the midfielder directed his header over the bar from point-blank range.

Benfica hit back, Di María jinking past two players and threading the ball through to Rafa who found himself up against Sporting goalkeeper Franco Israel, albeit at a tight angle, and his wild shot flew well wide.

High-intensity Benfica come close

The near miss signalled a sustained spell of heavy pressure from the home team, who played with an energy and sense of purpose often missing this season, with Sporting unable to exert their usual control on proceedings.

Benfica had the ball in the net in the 10th minute, but Rafa’s goal was ruled out for offside. The Eagles went desperately close to breaking the deadlock soon afterwards, Di María causing more havoc and the ball falling to Tengstedt, who was unlucky to see his deft chip from a difficult angle bounce off the crossbar.

Still Benfica poured forward, the excellent Aursnes picking out Di María with a perfect cross. The Argentine seemed certain to score but Israel spread himself well and saved with his knee.

Having weathered the storm, Sporting at last got a foothold in the game as Benfica’s furious pace relented and the visitors – knowing they were leading in the tie – were able to keep them at arm’s length.

Half-time, 0-0 and the Green and Whites still in the box seat, but Amorim obviously did not like what he had seen, replacing Nuno Santos, Ricardo Esgaio and Ousmane Diomande with Matheus Reis, Geny Catamo and St. Juste for the second half.

Hjulmand stunner

And Sporting fans erupted in celebration two minutes into the second period as their team took the lead on the night. St. Juste found Gyökeres with a ball down the line, the Swede advancing forward then cutting a neat pass to Hjulmand, who placed a perfect finish into the top corner from 20 yards, leaving Trubin rooted to his spot.

The home fans were suddenly silent as they contemplated a substantial deficit, but the Estádio da Luz did not take long to wake up. Excellent wing play by David Neres saw him escape the attention of Hjulmand and engineer enough space to clip over a lovely cross that Otamendi duly dispatched into the net with a thumping header.

There was no let-up in the goal action with Sporting responding and retaking the lead almost immediately. Geny Catamo teased a couple of defenders before sending over a cross with the outside of his foot that Trubin could only parry into the path of Paulinho, who gratefully struck the ball into the net.

In the 63rd minute it was almost game, set and match as Gyökeres pounced on a rare João Neves mistake to win the ball in a dangerous area, drive across the pitch and smash a rocket of a shot onto the post with Trubin again powerless to stop it. 

Neres instrumental

The relentless action continued, however, as Benfica broke down the other end of the pitch and equalised for a second time. Again Neres was involved, releasing Bah with a clever backheel, the right back sending over a low cross right into Rafa’s path to tap in from virtually on the goal-line.

Enthused with belief once again, the stadium became a cauldron of noise as the home fans urged their team forward. Amorim brought on Morita for Bragança to try and help regain a measure of control, but Benfica continued to look dangerous and capable of scoring the goal to level the tie on aggregate.

Goalkeepers shine

In the 72nd minute Di María curled a 20-yarder towards goal, bringing out a fantastic diving save from Israel, and Schmidt then freshened up his attack, bringing on Marcos Leonardo for Tengstedt, the Brazilian straight away having a chance but blazing his shot high and wide.

Although on the back foot, Sporting never abdicated from foraging forward when they had the opportunity, and an excellent combination between Gyökeres and Paulinho opened up a chance for the latter, with Trubin producing a sharp diving save to keep his team in the tie.

And Benfica had a golden chance to force extra time in the 86th minute when another superb Di María cross found late substitute Tiago Gouveia, but from just a few yards out the winger’s touch was poor, poking the ball wide of goal with just Israel to beat.

As the match entered stoppage time many would have recalled the league game between the teams earlier this season when Benfica scored two dramatic goals to turn a losing situation into a 2-1 victory, but there would be no repeat.

Sporting will play the Portuguese Cup final on 26 May, and if the rampant rumours linking Rúben Amorim with a switch to Liverpool prove true, it will be the Sporting coach’s final game at the helm of the Lisbon outfit.

By Tom Kundert at the Estádio da Luz


[0-1] Morten Hjulmand, 47’

[1-1] Nicolás Otamendi, 52’

[1-2] Paulinho, 55’

[2-2] Rafa Silva, 64’