A late swerving strike from Brazilian midfielder Marcos Senna took Villarreal CF to the brink of the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, defeating Group D rivals SL Benfica in a tense match at the Estádio Da Luz.
The game appeared to be drifting towards a stalemate before Senna's 81st-minute effort from 30 metres deceived Benfica's stand-in goalkeeper Rui Nereu, who misread the flight of the ball and could only palm it into the net. Despite the victory, Villarreal's night ended on a worrying note as their goalscorer hobbled off in added time.
Benfica coach Ronald Koeman had hurried back Simão from injury, although the Portuguese international winger was forced to play with heavy strapping on his left thigh, which seemed to restrict his usual vibrancy. Even when he had the chance to hit trademark free-kicks from the edge of the area, he struck the ball gingerly, a performance which embodied that of a disappointing Benfica team.
Neither side were able to establish much rhythm in a disjointed first half, although it might have been different had the hosts gone ahead with their first clear opportunity on six minutes. Manuel Fernandes curled a set-piece deep to the far post where Luisão pulled it back but Senna was alert and got a toe to the ball before Petit could reach it.
As it was both teams were limiting themselves to tentatively probing the opposition defence. Inevitably, this made mistakes the likeliest source of any openings. Anderson made the first, allowing Diego Forlán to get in behind him when he should have cleared. Fortunately for the Brazilian defender, Forlán's left-foot effort could not find the bottom corner.
Mariano Barbosa, the Villarreal goalkeeper playing because of injury to first-choice Sebastián Viera, was also caught out. He allowed himself to be closed down after carrying the ball out of the box and if Geovanni's lob had been more accurate, it could have been decidedly embarrassing for the reserve.
Forlán had to leave the field before the hour after hurting his shin in a tackle with Luisão. On came Luciano Figueroa, and the Argentinian international almost scored within seconds. José María Romero's cushioned header looked to have played him in on the edge of the area but Rui Nereu was quickly off his line to avert the danger.
On 58 minutes Benfica thought they had scored. Nuno Gomes had the ball in the net, nodding in Simão's cross, but he was ruled fractionally offside. It was frustrating for the home team, who were finding it hard to break down the visiting defence.
Twelve minutes later, the same fate befell Villarreal. Riquelme struck a powerful low shot from outside the box that was well parried by Rui Nereu. The rebound fell to Figueroa and the substitute slammed it into the net via the underside of the bar, but he had advanced too far forward and his effort was disallowed for offside.
With 20 minutes left, Koeman decided to gamble on securing victory. He sent on the attacking pair of Mantorras and João Pereira for Georgios Karagounis and Geovanni, and Benfica took the game to Villarreal to the delight of their support. It was a move that failed to pay off, however, as Senna had the last word.