Ten-man Benfica Beat Juventus to Reach Europa League Final
On a damp and floodlit night in Turin on Thursday, Benfica foiled Juventus with an expertly sprung defensive trap to deny the hosts a chance to appear in the Europa League final in their home stadium.
Unable to find a way through the wall of defenders, Juventus were eliminated as Benfica marched on to the final for a second consecutive year. The goalless draw meant that the Portuguese go through to the finals courtesy of their 2-1 win in the first leg of the tie.
In a match littered with half-chances, near-misses and volatile talking points there are sure to have been plenty of fans who had their hearts in their mouths for the 97 minutes as the Portuguese outfit stubbornly hung on to their narrow lead.
From as early as the eighth minute, the Old Lady took control of the tie and began to assert their dominance.
Andrea Pirlo lashed a long-range shot at Jan Oblak in the Benfica goal but the ‘keeper was more than equal to it, and then moments later the Italian veteran was once more involved as he scooped a cross from the left wing to the back post, but Arturo Vidal could only loop his shot on to the roof of the net.
The chances were coming, but there was no clinical touch to give them the results.
In truth, the Serie A outfit put their all into this semi-final and threw the kitchen sink at it; they wanted this victory, you could see it in the way they had approached it.
But Jorge Jesus’ side wanted it just a tad bit more.
Defending with concentration and audacity, they refused to give in as the Italian champions pressurised them with every passing minute.
Monopolising the possession as the Benfiquistas sat back and allowed their opponents to come at them, they resolutely defended their ground as an impervious unit.
Cynics will say that they played anti-football to deny the Calcio-lovers what they yearned the most, but it was merely a product of the modern-day, two-legged European tie.
Before the first half ended, Pirlo had another crack at goal from distance as he let fly with a 30-yard strike, but it dragged narrowly wide of the goal.
But the move of the match came on 46 minutes, in first-half stoppage time as Paul Pogba, Asamoah and Vidal combined to force an effort on target. But even when Juventus were able to undo the ‘keeper, his defenders rose to the rescue; Luisao coming up trumps for the Portuguese, heading the ball off the line.
No doubt, Juve will rue the fact they failed to make a breakthrough before half-time.
It didn’t get much better after the restart. Continuing to dazzle and dictate the tempo of the tie, Pirlo was once more at the hub of his team’s forages forward. However, it was the togetherness and unity of Benfica that eventually trumped individuality.
Even following the dismissal of Benfica’s Eno Perez after receiving his second yellow card, Antonio Conte failed to take advantage of his side’s numerical advantage. The Italian were frustrated with regularity – Carlos Tevez’s 70th minute shot gathered with ease by the visitors’ shot-stopper following a jinxing run, a fantastic example.
And then with seven minutes of normal time remaining Osvaldo had the crowd in raptures as he found the back of the net. It looked as though the Italians may have broken the dead-lock and found a chink in Benfica’s armour. But the linesman begged to differ as the goal was chalked off.
Further drama was to follow – this time on the sidelines – as Lazar Markovic and Mirko Vucinic became embroiled in a scuffle along with a number of others. And while it made for a great spectacle, it was all very silly and left somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth.
Nevertheless, Benfica march on to the big final where they will face La Liga side Sevilla.