Raúl Jiménez struck twice in Kazakhstan as Group C pacesetters Benfica recovered from two goals down to rescue a point and eliminate Astana from the UEFA Champions League in the process.
Needing a victory to maintain their hopes, the hosts – accustomed to the frosty conditions – caught Benfica cold with two goals inside 31 minutes. Patrick Twumasi became Astana's first ever scorer in the group stage before Marin Aničić doubled the advantage. However, Jiménez reduced the deficit late in the first half before netting a second after the break to claim a draw.
Despite missing injured captain Luisão and suspended playmaker Nicolás Gaitán, the Eagles travelled to the Kazakhstani capital in confident mood knowing three points would clinch progress. Indeed, Rui Vitória's side dominated the early exchanges with Jardel and Gonçalo Guedes going close.
But, against the run of play, the Kazakh title holders got the opener with their first effort on target. Twumasi met Junior Kabananga's whipped cross from the left at the back post before nodding past Júlio César. Then, on 31 minutes, Aničić stunned the overnight section leaders by diverting Foxi Kéthévoama's left-wing free-kick into the bottom-right corner from close range.
Goalkeeper Nenad Erić dived to his left to parry Pizzi's swerving 34th-minute attempt as the visitors looked for a way back into the contest. Six minutes later, the Portuguese outfit grabbed a lifeline when Mexican international Jiménez darted to the front post to send a powerful header into the top-right corner.
The away team carried that momentum into the second half with Guedes and Jonas missing decent opportunities before completing the turnaround on 72 minutes. Substitute André Almeida surged down the right before finding Jiménez who guided the cross into the far corner.
Moments earlier Júlio César had kept Benfica alive, sticking out a leg to block Kabananga's low strike. Despite pushing for a late winner the Eagles could not find the victory that would have guaranteed qualification – but it mattered little as Atlético Madrid's later triumph over Galatasaray ensured they and the Lisbon outfit will advance. By contrast Stanimir Stoilov's Astana, still unbeaten at home, exited the competition.
Stanimir Stoilov, Astana coach
I think today was a really good performance from us. We scored goals and did everything we could to win, though we're disappointed not to have scored a third to secure the victory. However, even if we had lost I would have been happy because the team showed they can play football at the highest European level.
Rui Vitória, Benfica coach
It was a really tough game for us – nobody has had an easy match here. Astana caused us major difficulties but we got the point that keeps us on track and we are satisfied with the result. The most important thing was that the boys who came off the bench played well.
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