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Benfica's Zenit late show wins quarter-final spot

Zenit 1-2 Benfica (agg: 1-3)
The tie was heading for extra time when Nicolás Gaitán headed in a decisive equaliser, Talisca's 96th-minute winner adding insult to Zenit injury.

Highlights: See how Benfica made the quarter-finals
Highlights: See how Benfica made the quarter-finals
  • Nicolás Gaitán strikes five minutes from time to decide the tie
  • Benfica through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012
  • The Portuguese side have won 16 of their last 17 games
  • Hulk's 69th-minute header briefly levels matters on aggregate
  • Quarter-final draw at 12.00CET on 18 March in Nyon

Nicolás Gaitán nodded in the rebound after a fantastic effort from Raúl Jiménez five minutes from time as Benfica booked a return to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of hosts Zenit.

The round of 16 tie was set for extra time after Hulk's header cancelled out the first-leg deficit, with Artem Dzyuba almost grabbing a second for André Villas-Boas's men following a mazy run, being denied by the excellent Ederson.

Instead Raúl turned his marker and unleashed a shot that Yuri Lodygin did well to tip onto the bar. Benfica captain Gaitán was on hand to turn the ball in and six minutes into added time Talisca rubbed salt into Zenit wounds.


Both back lines were ravaged by injury and suspension, with midfielder Andreas Samaris a shock starter at centre-back for the visitors. Yet defences held sway for the first hour. There was plenty of intent from Zenit, but it was measured nonetheless – trailing 1-0 from the game in Lisbon, they could not afford to concede an away goal.

First-leg highlights: Jonas winner
First-leg highlights: Jonas winner

Dzyuba was the hosts' most potent threat, flashing an early effort wide. Gradually, though, Benfica's rearguard, featuring goalkeeper Ederson on his UEFA Champions League debut, found some cohesion and Samaris shone, a natural with seemingly his own gravitational pull for crosses.

Zenit responded by committing more men forward, and Ederson had to be alert to deny Dzyuba and substitute Igor Smolnikov. At the other end Jonas, on the counter, wasted the opportunity to earn some breathing space – a miss for which, 21 minutes from time, Hulk made them pay, ghosting in unmarked to head in Yuri Zhirkov's cutback.

It looked to be enough for extra time at least, until Raúl turned the match on its head.

Samaris tracks Dzyuba
Samaris tracks Dzyuba©AFP/Getty Images

Key man: Andreas Samaris
With Benfica decimated, coach Rui Vitória deployed Greece midfielder Samaris as emergency centre-half. The 26-year-old came through the examination with flying colours, keeping the likes of Dzyuba at bay and marshalling an inexperienced back line – defensive partner Victor Lindelöf was making just his second UEFA Champions League outing.

Opportunity knocks for Ederson
Júlio César may struggle to get back into the Benfica side at this rate. The veteran has skipped the last two games with a thigh problem and Ederson has – quite literally – grabbed the chance with both hands. A clean sheet in Saturday's derby win at Sporting CP and now a memorable UEFA Champions League debut. The 22-year-old Brazilian may take some shifting.

How far can Benfica go?
Benfica came to the Stadion Petrovskiy vastly understrength and showed exceptional resilience to carve out a victory that takes them through to the quarter-finals. The likes of Samaris, Ederson and the equally exceptional Renato Sanches produced when their team needed it most and showed that Benfica can dig deep in times of adversity.

©AFP/Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
©AFP/Getty Images
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©AFP/Getty Images