Jonas: Benfica deserved Zenit win

"It was a game that we created more chances in," Jonas told UEFA.com after he headed an added-time winner to give Benfica the round of 16 edge over Zenit.

Jonas pointed the way for Benfica yet again
Jonas pointed the way for Benfica yet again ©AFP/Getty Images

They were made to wait, but a perfectly-placed 91st-minute header from in-form striker Jonas meant Benfica earned a 1-0 victory against Zenit in their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg meeting.

With the game seemingly destined to end goalless – despite the home side's control of possession – it was the forward who rose highest to meet Nicolás Gaitán's free-kick and give the Eagles what Jonas said was a "just result" following Domenico Criscito's late dismissal after a second booking.

"It was an exciting game until the end," Jonas told UEFA.com. "It was a game that we created more chances in, we were more organised in and we pressurised our opponents a lot.

"I'm happy to have scored the goal. It's great to play in such big games in such big competitions. The Champions League is a competition that I always dreamed of playing in."

Watch highlights of Benfica's win
Watch highlights of Benfica's win

So impressive has Jonas been this season only Napoli's Gonzalo Higuaín has bettered his haul of 23 league goals in Europe's top divisions. Yet it was his second UEFA Champions League goal of the campaign that might prove most pivotal as his side look to book their place in the quarter-finals for the first time since the 2011/12 edition. Coincidentally, Benfica knocked out Zenit at this stage to advance then.

It sparked euphoric scenes in the stands and on the pitch as the jubilant forward removed his shirt in celebration before being mobbed by team-mates. Nevertheless, the selfless 31-year-old, who also covered an impressive 10.2km as he led from the front, was quick to pay tribute to his fellow players and the club's supporters on a memorable night.

"I'm really happy right now, but the team played a great game," Jonas said. "It was me who scored the goal, but everyone's help was fundamental. Not to mention the fans, who gave us a formidable night, pushing the side on right until the end."

Villas-Boas still hopeful
Villas-Boas still hopeful

Following an even first half in which the Brazilian international came closest to opening the scoring, the St Petersburg outfit's lack of competitive action over the previous nine weeks – owing to Russia's winter break – took its toll as the visitors flagged after the restart.

The Russian champions were resolute, defending compactly, with wide men Hulk and Oleg Shatov often doubling up as wing-backs when not in possession. Their determined approached seemed to have been enough to deny the Eagles a chance of taking an advantage into the return fixture on 9 March, but Jonas ensured Rui Vitória's men will be favourites to advance.

"The second leg will be very difficult, not only because of the weather – it's quite a bit different to here!" he said.

"We're going to Russia with the intention of playing a great game, to play our football for 90 minutes and look to qualify for the quarter-finals. It's something that's the club's objective and it would be very important for us players, too."

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