SL Benfica enjoyed a dramatic late victory on their return to the UEFA Champions League group stage after an absence of seven years.
The home side were being held to a goalless draw by a well-organised LOSC Lille Métropole at Estádio da Luz before Italian striker Fabrizio Miccoli headed a winning goal in the second minute of added time to give coach Ronald Koeman only his second competitive triumph since taking charge of the Portuguese champions.
Tough on Sylva
It was tough on Lille, for whom goalkeeper Tony Sylva had been exceptional throughout, but Miccoli's skill and intelligent running had given them problems all night and a late lapse of concentration in the visiting defence gave him the chance to secure all three Group D points.
Koeman made four changes to the team that lost 2-1 to Sporting Clube de Portugal on Saturday. Nuno Gomes came into the attack, Geovanni and Petit into midfield, and Léo into the defence at left-back. By contrast, Lille were a side finding their early-season form. Coach Claude Puel fielded a new strike force of Daniel Gygax and Matt Moussilou, with Milenko Ačimovič and Peter Odemwingie making way despite a 2-0 Ligue 1 success at FC Metz at the weekend.
Miccoli goes close
The first half began at a high intensity which did not slow until the break. Benfica played a swift passing game, with Miccoli and Simão finding space on the left flank. Only two good saves from Sylva denied the compact Italian from opening the scoring, the first from a shot that kicked up off the turf and the second after the former Juventus FC man had skipped past his marker on the edge of the area. But even Sylva could do nothing about Miccoli's ninth-minute volley that came crashing back off the crossbar.
Lille were not being outclassed by any means. The visitors were playing a patient counterattacking game and while they conceded possession too often in the early stages, they had two good opportunities. First Jean Makoun headed over when unmarked from a Gygax corner, then Moussilou dragged a shot wide of an open goal after Geoffrey Dernis had knocked the ball back from the by-line.
Both coaches made a change at half-time. Puel brought on the more defensive Matthieu Debuchy for Gygax, the Swiss winger who faded quickly after a promising beginning, while Koeman introduced Brazilian defender Anderson for Ricardo Rocha – who had been booked – to try to nullify Moussilou's pace.
With an hour played, Puel's switch almost paid off. Debuchy struck a remarkable effort on the half-volley from 30 metres which looked destined for the bottom corner before swinging late and wide. Minutes earlier Mathieu Bodmer had nodded a Dernis corner over at the near post. Despite Benfica starting to dominate in the latter stages, Lille still counterattacked with fervour. Left-back Grégory Tafforeau sprinted down the left with 72 minutes gone but his pull-back was hit wildly over by Dernis.
Sylva commanded his area with distinction throughout, quick to claim crosses and sweep up attempted long passes. With ten minutes left he again frustrated Benfica, diving to repel a shot from Georgios Karagounis after the Greek midfielder had dribbled to the edge with the visiting defence backing off. Lille thought they had earned an impressive draw. Miccoli had other ideas.