SL Benfica will go into the UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw on Friday week as Group C winners after a narrow defeat of eliminated FC Oţelul Galaţi.
Having secured qualification at Manchester United FC a fortnight ago, Benfica had to win to be sure of first place. The recalled Óscar Cardozo's early goal put them on track and ensured Dorinel Munteanu's men finish their debut campaign in the competition with no points despite a battling display in Portugal.
After a confident start, the Romanian champions were almost caught out by a quick counterattack in the sixth minute. Bruno César's through ball almost reached Nicolás Gaitán, but goalkeeper Branko Grahovac's superbly-judged dash from his goal nullified the danger.
A minute later, Benfica did take the lead. Axel Witsel's reverse ball released Gaitán and his low cross was tapped in at the back post by Cardozo – the Paraguayan's 23rd goal in UEFA club competition. With Manchester United trailing at FC Basel 1893, the home side were comfortably in charge of the group and generally controlled the game with ease.
Cardozo thrashed a shot just wide from outside the area but Oţelul broke quickly and nearly equalised in a rare foray forward. Fortunately for Benfica, Artur was alert to make a smart double block from Gabriel Paraschiv and then captain Gabriel Giurgiu, with Jardel completing the clearance from close range. The lively Giurgiu then curled an effort wide as the visitors gained in confidence, and Artur beat away a shot from Liviu Antal.
Benfica began the second period keen to reassert their authority, and the lively César volleyed powerfully into Grahovac's midriff from a Gaitán cross almost immediately. The Argentinian continued to get plenty of joy down the Oţelul left and another superb right-footed delivery found Cardozo, whose header ballooned over.
Javi García smashed a shot agonisingly wide from distance just past the hour after more cultured approach play by Witsel, and substitute Nolito drew a fine save from Grahovac after a one-two with Cardozo. Oţelul refused to go down quietly, and Artur again had to be on his game to tip over a Ioan Filip shot. Despite Rodrigo missing in the dying seconds when clean through, Benfica held on to the three points – and to first place.