Some of the more dramatic twists on UEFA Champions League matchday five arrived in Group C. Things looked to be edging towards a premature climax, with Olympiacos FC having equalised at Paris Saint-Germain and SL Benfica pegged back to 2-2 at RSC Anderlecht.
However, it all turned around in a matter of seconds. First, substitutes Rodrigo and Miralem Sulejmani combined in Brussels, with the former running onto the latter's pass and driving home the winner for Benfica. Then, later still, Edinson Cavani applied a typically ice-cool finish to a visionary through ball from Marquinhos – the centre-back moonlighting as a playmaker – to break Greek hearts in the dying moments in the French capital as Paris won 2-1.
This left Jorge Jesus's side with renewed hope of reaching the last 16, just as it seemed they would be limited to aiming for a repeat of their trip to last season's UEFA Europa League final. The equation is simple: Benfica must pick up more points than Olympiacos on 10 December due to the superior head-to-head record of Míchel's team. The Greek champions welcome Anderlecht to Athens on matchday six, with Benfica hosting section winners Paris.
Laurent Blanc's men are currently combining eye-catching elan with admirable efficiency. Though they have already topped their pool, victory would be enough for them to surpass their excellent group stage points haul of 15 from last term – motivation aplenty.
There is still a chance for the Eagles, though. The Portuguese outfit have won the last two matches between the clubs in the Portuguese capital. Most recently, they had Franco Jara's late clincher to thank for victory in the first leg of their 2010/11 UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie. Four years previously, Simão's 89th-minute penalty wrapped up a 3-1 success (4-3 on aggregate) in the UEFA Cup last 16.
The popular winger, now at RCD Espanyol, left the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica in 2007 but still displays enthusiastic support for his old employers via Twitter. Benfica will need a combination of such good wishes, a rousing atmosphere (a given) and a touch of luck if they are to progress. Yet when Benfica and Paris meet in Lisbon, there have been twists. Jesus and his charges will be hoping these things really do come in threes.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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