An Óscar Cardozo goal three minutes from time finally broke down a disciplined Celtic FC defence and gave SL Benfica an invaluable victory in UEFA Champions League Group D.
The Portuguese side were largely on the front foot throughout, with the Uruguayan striker being denied by the frame of the goal twice in quick succession as the visitors looked set to be rewarded for a determined rearguard action with a goalless draw. However, Cardozo would not be denied and burst clear to beat goalkeeper Artur Boruc in the 87th minute, leaving the section finely poised ahead of the reverse fixture on Matchday 4.
Cause for caution
Both teams began cautiously, with Benfica reluctant to take risks having lost their first two matches and Celtic keen to avoid a repeat of last season's visit to Lisbon when they found themselves two goals down after 22 minutes. It was the Scottish champions who were first to threaten as Aiden McGeady's pace caused problems after a swift counterattack, although Maxi Pereira covered well. Massimo Donati then latched on to McGeady's clever through pass to fire in an effort that was deflected past the post.
Celtic were fortunate to escape punishment when Cardozo failed to connect with Léo's excellent low cross and almost exploited that let-off when Chris Killen headed down for Donati, whose first-time shot was instinctively parried by Quim. Scott Brown then skipped past three defenders only to lose his footing and within two minutes the same player sent an attempt wide from the edge of the area after Benfica had failed to clear Lee Naylor's free-kick.
José Antonio Camacho's team came closest to a breakthrough two minutes before half-time as Boruc acrobatically tipped over Konstantinos Katsouranis's header and, although their spell of pressure was interrupted by the half-time whistle, Benfica picked up where they had left off when the second period started. Boruc made a spectacular one-handed save to keep out Cardozo's powerful downward header, and from the resulting corner Rui Costa fashioned an opening only to blaze wide.
Killen then steered a near-post effort into the side-netting following another trademark burst by McGeady, who was himself denied by Quim having made yet another incisive run. That preceded another sustained passage of Benfica attacking, with the woodwork twice coming to Celtic's rescue. Cardozo thumped against the underside of the crossbar after Boruc had only blocked a powerful Cristián Rodríguez strike before the same player was denied by the post, having turned to curl a left-foot strike beyond the keeper.
Cardozo refused to admit defeat, seeing a shot veer narrowly wide of Boruc's left-hand post and failing to beat the keeper with a header moments later, although Evander Sno might have snatched the points at the other end only to mis-hit straight at Quim. Just as it looked as if Gordon Strachan's side would hold out, Cardozo finally got the goal his endeavour had merited, racing on to a delightul chipped pass from substitute Angel Di María to poke past the advancing Boruc and breathe new life into Benfica's campaign.