Benfica kept alive by late Marcos Leonardo brace

Benfica 3-1 Sp. Braga

Benfica have killed off Sporting’s hopes of celebrating a Primeira Liga title triumph this weekend against FC Porto after battling towards a 3-1 victory at home to Sporting de Braga, this evening.

The visitors put the pressure on the Eagles, navigating through turbulence from the stands after Ricardo Horta’s opener in the 28th minute of the first half, as Roger Schmidt’s side struggled to impose themselves.

The balance tipped with the change of halves, however, as Marcos Leonardo’s 71st minute equaliser pathed the way for David Neres’ crucial header in the 85th minute, and a stoppage-time second from Leonardo secured an important 3-1 win.

It was a tried and tested Benfica XI that awaited Braga at the Estádio da Luz, with the extent of the “surprises” reserved for the faith put into Arthur Cabral and Neres, used more loosely by Schmidt over the course of the season.

Via Cabral, the game found its first big chance as early as the 9th minute as the Brazilian striker pounced on a back-post nod from Alexander Bah with a header of his own, only for the bar to deny him from close range.

The chance invited a reaction out of Braga and by the 28th minute, the visitors issued their riposte in full after a big run from Álvaro Djaló enabled the winger to cut a cross back for Ricardo Horta, free to squeeze a shot in under Anatoliy Trubin.

Most of the 55,727 crowd were getting increasingly tetchy as Benfica failed to carve out chances, and the game had to be interrupted for several minutes as flares were launched onto the pitch by the home fans behind Trubin’s goal. 

Just ten minutes later, it was Djaló who was afforded the chance to take on Trubin with a ball over the top for the Spaniard to attack, but Ukrainian shot-stopper did his bit for Benfica, keeping the score at 1-0.

In the 42nd minute, Frederik Aursnes came very close to levelling things at the back-post for the Reds, but the Norwegian, rather inexplicably, lifted his volley from close range way over the target as the two sides made their way into half-time with a goal between them.

A seemingly even game quickly turned into one-way traffic in the second half with Benfica taking the encounter to Braga, retreating more and more into their half as the game went on.

The Eagles explored a range of avenues, but it wasn’t until the 71st minute, via Marcos Leonardo’s first touch of the ball, that they managed to equalise - raising the noise levels in the Portuguese capital.

From the left, Angel Di Maria was later able to provide the perfect delivery for Neres to attack with his head at the back-post, flipping the game on its back in the 85th minute with a 2-1 scoreline in Benfica’s favour.  

Braga coupled Benfica’s goal, much to the hosts’ delight, with a late red card for Víctor Goméz, leaving his team reduced to ten players in the final moments of the game. The numerical advantage invited a third goal for Benfica, picked up by Marcos Leonardo inside the box as he battled for possession before putting it past Matheus.

A win takes Schmidt’s side back to being four points adrift of leaders Sporting prior to the clash versus Porto, whereas defeat for Braga means the Dragons could go three points clear in third place.

By Patrick Ribeiro

SL Benfica XI: Anatoliy Trubin - Fredrik Aursnes, Nicolas Otamendi, Antonio Silva, Alexander Bah (Álvaro Carreras, 52’) - Florentino Luis, João Mário - David Neres (Tiago Gouveia, 97’), Rafa Silva (Marcos Leonardo, 70’), Angel Di Maria (Benjamín Rollheiser, 97’) - Arthur Cabral (Orkun Kökçü, 70’)

Sp. Braga XI: Matheus - Cristian Borja, Sikou Niakhaté, Paulo Oliveira, Víctor Goméz - João Moutinho, Cher Ndour (Bruma, 83’), Rodrigo Zalazar (Vitor Carvalho, 64’) - Ricardo Horta, Álvaro Djaló (Rony Lopes, 69’), Simon Banza


[0-1] Ricardo Horta, 28 

[1-1] Marcos Leonardo, 71 

[2-1] David Neres, 85 

[3-1] Marcos Leonardo, 90 + 5