Benfica will carry a slender advantage to Italy after recording a 2-1 victory over visiting Juventus on Thursday evening in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League semi-final at the Estadio da Luz.
Ezequiel Garay headed the hosts into a second-minute lead but Carlos Tevez equalised for Juventus in the second half. Lima, a second-half substitute, scored the winner with six minutes left.
The second leg is scheduled for next Thursday at Juventus Stadium, where the Bianconeri have a 100 percent record in 17 Serie A matches this season.
Both teams will already have plenty of motivation to reach the final, which is set for May 14. For Juventus, however, there is extra motivation with the showpiece to be played at their home stadium.
Benfica, meanwhile, will be spurred on by the memory of club legends Eusebio and Mario Coluna, both of whom died earlier this year. The Portuguese side are also trying to win a first continental title since the 1961-62 European Cup.
In addition to their European exploits, both teams are also enjoying success at the domestic level this season. Benfica wrapped up their 33rd Portuguese title over the weekend, and Juventus are closing on a third straight Serie A crown.
Benfica started brightly and scored the breakthrough goal in just the second minute. Miralem Sulejmani curled in a corner from the left, picking out Garay, whose header went in at the far post despite Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon putting a hand to the ball.
The hosts had another good chance in the 11th minute, countering swiftly following a Juventus attack. Lazar Markovic freed Sulejmani on the left, but Sulejmani shot into the side netting.
Juventus gained in stature as the half continued and had a good chance in the 32nd minute, when Stephan Lichtsteiner sent a header just wide. It would not have counted anyway, however, as Lichtsteiner had been ruled offside.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time, Juventus came close to scoring the equaliser in the 55th minute, but Benfica goalkeeper Artur Moraes stretched to tip away Paul Pogba's well-placed header from Claudio Marchisio's cross. Two minutes later, Artur plucked the ball away from Mirko Vucinic's head to maintain the hosts' lead.
The equaliser came in the 73rd minute through Tevez. Marchisio started the move, freeing Kwadwo Asamoah with a pass on the left. Asamoah crossed into the middle for Tevez, who beat a defender with a cut-back and shot past Artur to give Juve a valuable away goal.
It was Tevez's first European goal in five years, per @OptaPaolo.
But just when it seemed the match was headed for a draw, Lima grabbed the winner in the 84th minute, smashing a powerful shot high past Buffon.
Juventus had a chance to equalise a second time, but Artur saved Marchisio's shot in the 89th minute. Then, in stoppage time, Giorgio Chiellini volleyed wide from Marchisio's pass, ensuring the Bianconeri would have work to do at home in the second leg.
|Benfica Player Ratings|
|Andre Almeida (for Sulejmani, 61')||N/A||6|
|Lima (for Cardozo, 63')||N/A||8|
|Ivan Cavaleiro (for Gomes, 82')||N/A||6|
|Juventus Player Ratings|
|Sebastian Giovinco (for Vucinic, 66')||N/A||5|
|Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (for Tevez, 83')||N/A||5|
Juventus manager Antonio Conte called the result "unjust," saying the Bianconeri controlled the match after Benfica's early goal. According to Sky Sports Italia (via Football Italia), Conte said:
I think there is great regret for this unjust result. The game didn’t start in the best way, as we conceded after a couple of minutes from a set play and knew the enthusiasm for Benfica.
However, after that we took control and allowed Benfica practically nothing. We felt from one moment to the next they would capitulate, but instead this goal arrived out of nowhere.
It’s a shame, as at that moment we were pushing for our second goal. We fell asleep at the back. We fell asleep. Let’s say we were caught napping there...
We have understood that the semi-final is open and the Juventus Stadium, when it wants to, is capable of matching the extraordinary atmosphere in Lisbon. It’s a Final we all want.
Goalscorer Carlos Tevez said Juventus can still advance to the final. As quoted by Football Italia, Tevez said: "We’ve got a very good chance of getting through to the next round. Qualification is wide open for the second leg"