Benfica Earns Narrow Lead

Benfica has defeated Zenit St.Petersburg 1-0 in their Uefa Champions League Last 16 first leg clash at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday.  The hosts controlled the match, but had to wait 91 minutes to break the deadlock.  A foul by Domenico Criscito handed Rui Vitori’s men a dual advantage, as the hosts went one-man up after Criscito saw red and followed that up with a goal from the resultant free kick which was scored by Jonas.

The lead hands Benfica a much needed advantage heading into the second leg.  The hosts kicked off the clash and showed their intention from the onset.  In the 18th minute, Pizzy had the first sniff at goal, however after excellent build-up play from the hosts, the midfielder hit his shot straight at the keeper.  Ten minutes later, the home team were on the attack again when Jonas had a go from outside the box but had to watch his shot deflect narrowly wide and settle for a corner.

At the other end, Zenit had been defensively sound but struggled going forward and managed only one shot on target in the first half, a venomous free kick by Hulk that swerved just wide of Julio Cesar’s right post.  After a dominant half from the hosts, the teams went in level at the break.  It was a tense opening to the second stanza, with Zenit threatening early on.

In the 52nd minute Alex Witsel had his shot from outside the box saved by Julio Cesar moments before he headed straight at the Brazilian keeper with time on his side.  Despite the Russians having the better of the opening exchanges, it was the Portuguese team that controlled possession, only challenged by a resolute defence.  Rui Vitori’s men had to wait until the 68th minute for an opportunity.

After good work on the left wing, Jonas nodded the ball down for Nicolas Gaitan who breezed past the Zenit defence before going for power with his shot and skying the follow up.   The home team continued to persevere and it was a scrappy end to the match, yet in the midst of chaos there was opportunity.  Criscito had been booked for a foul in the 67th minute and very nearly survived the remaining minutes, but was sent off right at the death.

To add further insult to injury, the resultant free kick turned out to be the match winner.  Aguias’ South American combination combined yet again as Gaitan whipped in a quality set-piece and Jonas provided the finish, heading into the bottom right corner.  Four minutes were added at the end of the 90 but the night belonged to Benfica and deservedly so, dominating the statistics with 15 shots to five, 444 passes to 202 and controlling over 60% of possession.

Benfica will now travel to Russia, leading 1-0 on aggregate. 

Teams: 

Benfica: Julio Cesar, Samaris, Gaitan, Mitroglou, Lindelof, Jonas, Eliseu, Pizzi, Jardel, Andre Almeida, Renato Sanchez.Subs: Ederson, Jiminez, Goncalo Guedes, Silvio, Talisca, Carcela-Gonzalez, Semedo.

Zenit St. Petersburg:  Lodgyin, ANgukov, Criscito, Lombaerts, Hulk, Danny, Shata, Javi Garcia, Dzyuba,  Garay, Witsel. Subs: Kerzhakov, Mauricio, Kokorin, Luis Neto, Yusupov, Zhirkov, Dolgov.

Venue: Estadio da Luz