RCD Espanyol withstood a barrage of second-half pressure from SL Benfica to claim a goalless draw in Lisbon and book their place in the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
Leading 3-2 from the first leg, Espanyol produced a resolute defensive display to eliminate the two-time European champions and maintain their hopes of claiming a first continental prize. After a quiet opening period, Benfica sprung to life and created enough chances to run out comfortable winners, but Nuno Gomes was foiled by a wonder save from Gorka Iraizoz and the woodwork denied both Fabrizio Miccoli and Rui Costa as the Spanish team hung on to set up a semi-final meeting with Werder Bremen.
Pandiani hits post
The Espanyol goal had been under threat as early as the first minute when Miccoli narrowly failed to connect with Nuno Gomes's right-wing cross. However, visiting coach Ernesto Valverde had made it clear he did not want his players to sit back and they closed down tenaciously, restricting Rui Costa and Georgios Karagounis to speculative long-range efforts as the Portuguese side's initial pressure petered out. At the other end, Walter Pandiani, leading the line in the absence of injured captain Raúl Tamudo, came close to scoring his eleventh goal in the competition after jinking inside Anderson on the left and curling a sumptuous shot on to the outside of the far post on 12 minutes.
As in the first leg, Benfica struggled to find their attacking fluency in the first half. Moisés Hurtado kept a close eye on Simão whose whipped shot flew wide of the far post on 16 minutes, but the best opportunities for Fernando Santos's men were coming from set-pieces. On 28 minutes, Nuno Gomes met Simão's corner with a powerful header, parried by Iraizoz, which David Luiz was unable to turn in on the rebound. With seconds remaining before the break, Benfica at last carved out a chance from open play, Simão threading a pass through for Miccoli but the Italian was beaten to the ball by the onrushing goalkeeper.
Iraizoz to the rescue
Benfica began the second half with more urgency and almost grabbed the goal they craved on 48 minutes. Simão's raking ball down the left found Miccoli who held up play before crossing for the Benfica captain, yet Simão could not trouble Iraizoz with his strike. Just as Espanyol seemed to be regaining control in midfield, a moment of inspiration from Rui Costa on 66 minutes almost broke their resistance. The veteran burst into the penalty area and drilled a low centre to the far post where Nuno Gomes appeared destined to score before Iraizoz pulled off a miraculous stop.
That proved the cue for a dramatic finale as Benfica poured forward in waves. Espanyol's luck seemed to be in on 72 minutes when Miccoli crashed a low effort against the post and the rebound hit Iraizoz but did not go in. Two minutes later Rui Costa bent a delightful free-kick against the same upright. Benfica's anguish continued as Mantorras nodded wide from close range on 85 minutes, and Espanyol, UEFA Cup runners-up in 1988, held on to keep alive their dream of going one better this year. Yellow cards for Francisco Chica, Luis García and Pablo Zabaleta – ruling them out of the semi-final first leg against Werder Bremen - were the only blemishes on a famous night for the Catalan outfit.