Despite scoring their first-ever UEFA Champions League goal, Villarreal CF were unable to earn their inaugural victory in the competition as Portuguese visitors SL Benfica battled back to snatch a 1-1 draw.
After their first two Group D encounters finished all square, Juan Román Riquelme's 72nd-minute penalty seemed to have earned the Spanish side three valuable points. However, an extraordinary long-range volley from Manuel Fernandes five minutes later restored parity, with Benfica's substitute goalkeeper, 19-year-old Rui Nereu, producing a brilliant debut display to help the away team to a draw.
The game began cautiously with no player able to take control in the opening exchanges. Villarreal had to start without both first-choice central midfielders, as with Marcos Senna already out with muscle problems, Josico's achilles injury consigned him to the bench.
Villarreal's key player Riquelme did feature, and although he struggled to find his rhythm in the first 45 minutes – a legacy of missed matches caused by recurring injury problems – much of the home threat nevertheless originated from the Argentina playmaker. However, it was Josico's replacement, Santiago Cazorla, who very nearly registered his club's first UEFA Champions League goal, latching on to Riquelme's probing pass after a fortunate break and skimming a left-foot shot narrowly wide.
Benfica goalkeeper Quim was a helpless onlooker on that occasion, which proved to be his last action of the match. Already without No1 José Moreira, coach Ronald Koeman had to watch Quim limp off in the 29th minute having earlier undergone lengthy treatment to a groin strain, and Nereu, the Eagles' reserve-team keeper, came on for his full debut.
The Portuguese outfit enjoyed better fortune in the opposition half, particularly down the right. Cape Verde full-back Nélson galloped up and down the touchline with increasing regularity, and found willing partners in both Geovanni and Nuno Gomes. One such combination allowed Geovanni to cross for Simão, but Cazorla intervened to make an exceptional interception with the Benfica captain set for a header on goal.
From the corner Manuel Fernandes tested Sebastián Viera's reflexes, but as the first half ended it was the Spanish side who were on top. Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini's half-time solution to the threat down the visitors' right was to move Argentinian international Juan Pablo Sorín to left-back in place of Rodolfo Arruabarrena and introduce Josico in midfield. The switch nearly brought immediate reward, Riquelme playing in José María Romero for an elegant right-footed chip that floated a centimetre or two past Nereu's far post.
Minutes later Jan Kromkamp's deep right-wing cross was expertly controlled on his chest by Sorín, who advanced on goal only for Nereu to dive and smother the danger with poise and confidence. The teenager did even better just past the hour when Riquelme's wonderfully disguised reverse pass left Cazorla clear, Nereu producing an instinctive stop to turn the ball over the crossbar.
The Benfica No43 then blocked Diego Forlán's vicious shot, but was unable to keep out Riquelme's set-piece 18 minutes from time after Sorín had been fouled by Ricardo Rocha. The celebrations had barely subsided when the visitors responded, however. Villarreal failed to clear and Manuel Fernandes's dipping effort from 35 metres caught Viera off his line to give Benfica a point Nereu's display had more than merited.
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