SL Benfica closed in on the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup with an impressive 2-0 defeat of NK Dinamo Zagreb at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. First-half goals from Tomislav Šokota and Simão Sabrosa made for a comfortable evening for Giovanni Trapattoni’s side.
The tone was set before the whistle when Benfica’s symbol – a giant eagle – swooped into the stadium, accompanied by rousing classical music, to land on a statue of the club crest. Dinamo went into the match with a new coach after confirming the appointment of Ilija Loncarevic, who stepped in when Nenad Gracan resigned following the 4-2 defeat by HNK Rijeka at the weekend, and appeared overawed by the occasion.
Trapattoni’s team began in dominant fashion, stroking the ball around at the back and appearing immediately settled. Their poise, however, was almost wrecked when Dinamo striker Eduardo Da Silva, the Brazilian-born Croatian international, latched on to a long ball over the top and nearly slotted in at the far corner in the fourth minute.
The hosts soon reasserted themselves and Šokota was only prevented from lashing in a drive from close range by a last-ditch tackle. But the Croatian striker did not have to wait long before opening the scoring with a fine header. The forward contorted his body in the air to power in a precise cross from the left from Portuguese international Simão.
Dinamo went about levelling immediately, defender Marijan Buljat unloading a vicious shot from just outside the box which goalkeeper José Moreira tipped over. Ten minutes later, Dinamo found themselves 2-0 down after conceding a penalty. Simão, who crossed tirelessly all evening, was ordered to take the spot-kick twice because he broke his run during his original successful attempt. To the delight of the home faithful, he struck his second into the same corner as he had the first.
Dinamo began the second half with conviction, knowing they needed to score early to stand any chance of avoiding going home empty-handed. The positive attitude ensured the match developed into an entertaining counterattacking spectacle. Right-back João Pereira enjoyed greater opportunity to press forward and his 54th-minute ball, after he skipped through a series of challenges, was almost tucked away by the rangy Azar Karadas.
Šokota looked to have collected his second goal of the evening in the 57th minute, but the bar came to goalkeeper Vladimir Vasilj’s rescue when he was clearly beaten. Dinamo were unfortunate not to pull a goal back when Norwegian forward Karadas almost turned a free-kick from Edin Mujcin into his own net.
The visitors’ only other chance to strike in the remainder of the game fell to substitute Veldin Karic, whose well-struck shot fizzed wide in the 77th minute. Benfica face their next opponents, Belgian side KSK Beveren, on 2 December while Dinamo will now have plenty to do in their two forthcoming matches against SC Heerenveen and VfB Stuttgart.