Newcastle vs. Benfica: Toon Army Can Be Proud of Their European Adventure

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2013

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - APRIL 11: Papiss Demba Cisse (C) of Newcastle celebrates his goal during the UEFA Europa League quarter final second leg match between Newcastle United and SL Benfica at St James' Park on April 11, 2013 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Newcastle United may now be out of the Europa League, but they can look back on their continental campaign with a huge degree of satisfaction.

There is no disgrace in losing to Benfica. The Aguias are currently unbeaten in the Portuguese Primer Liga and could be on course to claim another title. Their domestic season could not be more different from Newcastle’s own. The Magpies have struggled to replicate their outstanding Premier League form of 2011-12, and have instead flirted with the fringes of a relegation battle.

European observers would be surprised by Newcastle’s domestic form. They gave a good account of themselves against Benfica, holding their own against one of the continent’s most in-form sides. No other side has managed to avoid defeat in both legs against the Portuguese giants since they entered the competition at the group stage. Newcastle’s Europa League campaign has also taken in impressive results against the likes of Bordeaux and Club Brugge.

Although Alan Pardew will naturally be saddened to leave the competition at the quarterfinal stage, they should take some pride in getting this far. The fact that sides like Chelsea, Lazio and Benfica are contesting the prize shows that the Magpies were keeping very good company indeed. 

As for the match itself, Newcastle will rue two disallowed Papiss Cisse efforts either side of halftime. A different set of officials might have turned his solitary goal into a hat-trick and subsequently transformed the tie. Instead, Benfica were able to secure the draw required to enable them to pass safely into the next round.  

In time to come, perhaps Newcastle will remember the tie for the return from injury of Hatem Ben Arfa. The Frenchman had been expected to miss the rest of the season with a torn hamstring, but he was a surprise component of the match with Benfica, replacing Vurnon Anita as a second-half substitute.

With Newcastle still not absolutely clear of danger in the Premier League, the return of Ben Arfa could not have come at a better time. The winger is arguably the Magpies’ most creative player, and his mere presence will hopefully inspire an upturn in their domestic form.

Newcastle’s next game is at home to Sunderland. Victory there could not only lift Newcastle out of trouble, but could also help condemn their rivals to relegation.

That would give the fans plenty to celebrate. Whatever happens, they should take some cheer from an impressive European campaign. Although Newcastle's Premier League season may have been a disappointed, the side far surpassed expectations in Europe.