SL Benfica will travel to Germany next week with a narrow advantage after coming from behind to defeat VfB Stuttgart in the first instalment of their UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie.
A deft lob from Martin Harnik capped a bright start by the Bundesliga strugglers in Lisbon, Bruno Labbadia's charges making full use of their clearest opening of the first half on 21 minutes. Benfica emerged reinvigorated after the break, however, equalising through Óscar Cardozo with 20 minutes left before Franco Jara added a deflected second from distance in the closing stages.
Shinji Okazaki, on his Stuttgart debut, tested Roberto with a shot from the left on 15 minutes, but the Benfica No1 was powerless to keep his side on level terms midway through the half. Receiving Tamás Hajnal's long pass, Harnik neatly dinked the ball over the stranded goalkeeper from just inside the penalty area.
Having been stifled in midfield before the break, Benfica became more of a threat after the restart. Fábio Coentrão forced a save from Sven Ulreich on 52 minutes while Pablo Aimar – making his 100th appearance for Benfica – and Nicolás Gaitán did likewise soon after.
Cardozo finally hit the target, however, turning in the loose ball following Gaitán's right-wing centre, and one soon became two when Jara's deflected volley from long range flew off Ulreich's hand, on to the crossbar and over the goal line with nine minutes remaining.
Élson provided a scare when he hit the post after a free-kick, yet Alan Kardec and Cardozo had late chances to give the scoreline a more polished appearance ahead of the second leg next week.
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