Benfica are firm favourites to advance to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals following a 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday evening in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie at White Hart Lane.
Benfica, who finished as runners-up in this competition last season, went ahead via Rodrigo in the 29th minute. Luisao doubled the visitors' advantage early in the second half, moments before Christian Eriksen pulled a goal back for Spurs with a fine free-kick.
The Portuguese league leaders then sealed the win—and possibly the tie—with Luisao's second goal seven minutes from time.
The second leg, which Benfica will host with a two-goal advantage, is scheduled for next Thursday.
Tottenham 1-3 Benfica FT: Shots(OT) 6(3) - 9(6), Possession 55% - 45%, Tackles 23 - 15 http://t.co/ZHDxjiXsyU— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 13, 2014
Thursday's match came at a pivotal point of Tottenham's season. Following a 4-0 loss at Premier League leaders Chelsea at the weekend, Spurs missed a chance to pull within one point of fourth-placed Manchester City.
Tim Sherwood's team will have a chance to make amends quickly. On Sunday, Spurs host North London rivals Arsenal in a match that will be crucial for both teams' ambitions. Speaking to the press this week, Sherwood said that "all" of his players were playing for their "futures."
"I want players here who want to play for the club and they have, between now and the end of the season, to show that they are playing for their club and not for themselves," Sherwood said, per BBC Sport.
Sherwood and his counterpart, Benfica manager Jorge Jesus, were involved in an altercation along the touchline in the second half. The two did not shake hands following the final whistle.
"I thought his team were very good, got a lot of class," Sherwood said after the match, per BBC Sport. "It's a pity he doesn't."
Both sides found chances scarce in the opening minutes. Tottenham's Aaron Lennon tried to pick out Emmanuel Adebayor following a fine run on the left in the 17th minute, but Benfica managed to clear. Nine minutes later, Benfica's Lazar Markovic hit the bar with a chip over Hugo Lloris.
The visitors then took the lead in the 29th minute through Rodrigo. Latching on to a through pass from deep on the right, Rodrigo created space for himself with his pace before curling his shot past Lloris and into the net.
Spurs went into half-time trailing 1-0 but showed significant improvement immediately following the break. In the 49th minute, Eriksen weaved through traffic outside the box before passing to Adebayor in space on the right. Adebayor had time to pick his corner, but he scuffed his shot wide of the far post.
Instead of scoring the equaliser, though, Spurs soon gave up another away goal.
This time the goal came from a corner, which Ruben Amorim curled in from the left. Luisao rose highest at the near post to power in a header for a 2-0 lead in the 58th minute.
Tottenham were reeling, but they received a lifeline six minutes later via a fine solo effort from Eriksen. Spurs won a free-kick just outside the box, slightly left of centre, and Eriksen curled a dipping shot around the wall and into the net to cut Benfica's lead to 2-1.
Spurs had another chance in the 71st minute, when Eriksen's free-kick found Younes Kaboul inside the box on the right. But Kaboul's header flew straight at Jan Oblak, who saved.
An already tough task became even more difficult for Spurs in the 81st minute when Jan Vertonghen drew a yellow card. The booking means Vertonghen will miss next week's second leg via suspension.
Benfica then delivered a potential knockout two minutes later.
Lloris saved Ezequiel Garay's initial header as Benfica attacked from another set piece. But the rebound fell nicely for Luisao, who powered his shot in off the underside of the crossbar to make it 3-1 with seven minutes left.
The visitors came close to a fourth goal in stoppage time, but Lloris saved Guilherme Siqueira's shot from close range.
|Roberto Soldado (for Kane, 75')||N/A||6|
|Danny Rose (for Walker, 76')||N/A||6|
|Nabil Bentaleb for (Sandro, 82')||N/A||6|
|Nicolas Gaitan (for Cardozo, 65')||N/A||7|
|Enzo Perez (for Sulejmani, 66')||N/A||6|
|Lima (for Rodrigo, 87')||N/A||6|
Tottenham host Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday.
Benfica play at Nacional in the Portuguese Liga Sagres on Monday.