Football

Rodrigo Lima fires Benfica to first leg lead

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Rodrigo Lima’s stunning late winner saw Benfica beat Juventus in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.

The Brazilian emerged from the bench to restore the Portuguese side’s lead after Carlos Tevez had equalised Ezequiel Garay’s early header.

Tevez’s goal was his first in Europe for four years, but ultimately wasn’t enough to prevent the Eagles taking a one-goal lead to Turin.

Last year’s finalists Benfica have only lost four times in all competitions this season, and just once in 2014. Having secured the Portuguese title last week, they could yet achieve an incredible quadruple.

Juventus have been similarly impressive, and are just five points away from winning their 30th Serie A title, having already tasted glory in the Supercoppa Italiana.

Though the Old Lady have been in fine form since dropping down to the Europa League, Antonio Conte will rue his side’s sub-par Champions League performances earlier in the campaign.

It was the home side who started brightest here and they were immediately in front, with Garay’s goal coming in just the second minute. The centre-back rose above Leonardo Bonucci to meet Miralem Sulejmani’s left wing corner and nod goal-wards – Gianluigi Buffon only able to help the ball into the bottom corner.

The goal-scorer has been linked with a move to Manchester United for the last 12 months but has continued to perform well despite the speculation, and looks certain to go to the World Cup with Argentina.

The next chance fell Benfica’s way too. A smart Luisao tackle on Carlos Tevez allowed Lazar Markovic to carry the ball over the halfway line and find Sulejmani, who lashed wide of the near post.

It was a first half full of quality, but one that contained little goalmouth incident. Juve’s only real opportunity saw Stephan Lichsteiner somehow put a close-range header wide, although a harsh offside flag spared his blushes.

Juventus started the second half on the front foot, and Artur did well to claw away Paul Pogba’s header from a Claudio Marchisio cross.

The Portuguese side remained in the game though and broke from the resulting corner, with the ball finding its way to Sulejmani on the left corner of the visitors’ penalty area.

The Serbian nutmegged Martin Caceres before going down in the area under a challenge from the defender, but referee Cuneyt Cakir waved away the appeals of the Benfica crowd and players.

In the 68th minute, Lichsteiner found space down the right-hand side and as he played the ball across the six-yard box, Juve looked destined to score a crucial away goal, only for Maxi Pereira to expertly intercept.

Five minutes later though, the Italians were level. Tevez brilliantly shimmied around Luisao before nutmegging Artur to spark mass celebrations in the away dugout.

But substitute Lima then smashed in the winner with just seven minutes remaining. Ivan Cavaleiro’s dummy was meant for Pereira, but Benfica’s top-scorer got there first and rifled the ball into the roof of the net.

The home side had to survive late scares as Artur twice denied Marchisio, and Giorgio Chiellini sliced wide.

But in the end they could have doubled their advantage, with Cavaleiro seeing an effort blocked by Caceres in the final minute of stoppage time.

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Topics:
Football
Europa League
Ezequiel Garay
Carlos Tevez

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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