ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA: A fortunate ricochet off the bar and Nicolas Gaitan’s follow-up header helped to send Benfica into the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Wednesday with a 2-1 win over Zenit St. Petersburg.
Going into the second leg game 1-0 down against an injury-depleted Benfica, Zenit laid siege to Benfica’s goal in the second half of the Round of 16 match. The home side was rewarded for its efforts in the 69th minute when Yuri Zhirkov found space on the left flank to cross for Hulk to head home.
Benfica was angered by the goal, arguing that a free-kick should have been awarded in the build-up when Zhirkov bodychecked Nelson Semedo to win the ball.
But the Portuguese club scored a crucial goal in the 85th minute when Raul Jimenez’s curled volley was tipped onto the bar by goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin and fell perfectly for Gaitan’s header.
Benfica made it 3-1 on aggregate with the last kick of the game when Talisca hit a half-volley from inside the box in the 96th.
“I was expecting us to win today,” Benfica coach Rui Vitoria said. “We played very well, it’s a well-deserved victory for us.”
The win followed a last-minute victory for Benfica in the first leg in Lisbon, where Jonas scored the only goal in the 92nd-minute. It was also a repeat of a two-leg win over Zenit at the same stage of the competition four years ago.
Zenit coach Andre Villas-Boas was morose in defeat.
“It’s a pity for a team that pushed so well and created some great chances that we end up losing this game and the tie,” he said. “I think it was a bit unfair what happened in today’s game … It was not our day.”
Zenit could have scored more were it not for a brave performance by Benfica goalkeeper Ederson.
Ederson put his body on the line to close down first Igor Smolnikov, who collided with the keeper and left him needing treatment in the 60th, and then later Artem Dzyuba, who hesitated a little too long after storming through the defense in the 81st, allowing the keeper to make the stop.
Dzyuba, Zenit’s top goalscorer in Europe this season, had also come close in the seventh minute with a low, hard shot that flashed narrowly wide. The Russian club’s record of never having reached the Champions League quarterfinals continues.
While Zenit keeper Lodygin’s spectacular one-handed stop of Jimenez’s shot backfired when the ball came back off the bar, he had pulled off a similar save in the 72nd with an acrobatic, one-handed dive to stop a looping header from Victor Lindelof that was destined for the top corner.