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Benfica grateful for Garay winner

SL Benfica 2-1 Celtic FC
Ezequiel Garay's 71st-minute volley kept the home side in Group G contention after Giorgos Samaras had cancelled out Ola John's early opener.

Benfica grateful for Garay winner
Benfica grateful for Garay winner ©UEFA.com

SL Benfica kept alive their hopes of reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout stage after edging out Celtic FC on a night of intense rain and noise in Lisbon.

The Scottish champions looked set for a long night when Ola John gave the hosts an early lead, but Giorgos Samaras headed them level before half-time. A draw would have been enough for Celtic to reach the last 16 as Group G runners-up but they were under pressure from the outset in the second half and cracked with 19 minutes remaining, Ezequiel Garay volleying a sumptuous clincher. Benfica must now equal Celtic's matchday six result to hold onto second place; the Portuguese side visit section winners FC Barcelona while Celtic welcome FC Spartak Moskva.

Benfica showed their intent from the start, Óscar Cardozo hammering a long-range shot narrowly over Fraser Forster's crossbar. The ball barely left Celtic's half in the opening exchanges, and Jorge Jesus's team quickly made their domination count. In the seventh minute Eduardo Salvio got behind the left side of the Celtic defence and, though Scott Brown beat Cardozo to the cross, John drove in the loose ball.

Reinforced in midfield by the return from suspension of Nemanja Matić, Benfica kept a strong grip on proceedings as the game became cagey, with defenders wary of slips on an increasingly wet surface. Their patience was nearly rewarded when Lima slipped strike partner Cardozo through, yet he shot wide of Forster's near post.

So Celtic's equaliser shortly afterwards came out of the blue, Charlie Mulgrew's invitingly deep corner leaving Samaras with a simple header. Neil Lennon's men grew in confidence as the sizeable traveling contingent exulted, but almost fell behind again when Salvio first lashed over and then created an opening for John that Forster blocked with his feet.

As the second half got under way, the visitors dropped deep to protect what they had. It looked like a moment of individual quality might be needed to break Celtic down, and Lima almost delivered when he cut in from the left and fired past Forster, only for Adam Matthews to clear off the line. 

Celtic were hanging on though when Benfica finally got through, it was with only ten men with Salvio off the pitch receiving attention. Matić's cross was nodded down by Luisão for his centre-back partner Garay to beat Forster with a thunderous volley. Salvio then curled an effort against the bar as Benfica pushed for a third, but Group G has a thrilling climax set up nevertheless.

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