PFC CSKA Moskva gave themselves every chance of reaching the UEFA Cup last 16 with an impressive 2-0 victory against SL Benfica.
The Russian team scored in both halves courtesy of goals from defender Vassili Berezoutski and Brazilian striker Vágner Love to put themselves in a promising position ahead of the away tie at the Estádio da Luz next Thursday. Benfica enjoyed the majority of the possession in a first half in which they were unfortunate not to score but were thoroughly outplayed in the second as CSKA emerged from the break in vigorous spirits.
Benfica, third in the Portuguese SuperLiga, began the match positively and looked anything but the away side as they circulated the ball elegantly in the opening stages. Nevertheless, it was CSKA - in their first competitive game of 2005 - who fashioned the first chance when Vágner Love almost took advantage of a mistake in the visiting defence only to lose his footing and stumble over the ball as he went to shoot.
Despite beginning the game on the defensive, CSKA went ahead on 12 minutes. Berezoutski managed to get his boot on the end of Daniel Carvalho's looping free-kick into the box which angled its way past a succession of Benfica defenders and looked as if it would have gone in even if the tall stopper had not provided a final touch to ensure it did.
From that point on, however, the visitors dominated, enjoying long spells on the ball which only broke down when the move encroached on the host area. Yet the CSKA rearguard held firm, defending well and carefully following Benfica's triumvarate of forwards - Simão Sabrosa, Geovanni and Nuno Gomes - as they dropped deep to collect.
In the final minutes of the opening period Simão, Petit and Nuno Assis all took turns to try to level the score with audacious efforts from distance while CSKA’s only attempt of note during this period fell to Rolan Gusev, who also drilled wide from long range.
Words of warning
The Russian side, eliminated from the UEFA Champions League after two losses to Chelsea FC and one against FC Porto, emerged for the second half in determined mood. Within seconds of the restart, Carvalho jinked down the flank and fizzed in a dangerous cross which was headed away by the smallest of margins. Elvir Rahimic then pounced on a loose ball and hit a thundering strike on the half-volley which was charged down.
The greater ambition soon paid dividends and CSKA collected their second goal in the 60th minute just as Benfica were threatening to gain a foothold. Midfield player Rahimic nudged a ball into the path of Vágner Love, who controlled the pass with aplomb and slammed a right-foot shot into the corner past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Quim.