For the second time in two seasons, FC Porto have defeated Benfica in the league fixture at Estadio da Luz. Unlike last season, when they would have won the title with or without a massive result away in Lisbon, this victory could prove decisive in the race for the Portuguese Liga. Porto took the lead initially before Benfica scored the next two goals, taking the lead early in the second half. Porto would score the final two goals, however, including a late and controversial winner to capture a huge 3-2 victory.
The opening minutes were dead even, with Benfica looking like the slightly more dangerous side before Hulk struck like only Hulk can. Following a corner kick that was cleared away, Porto regained possession and the ball was played wide left to Hulk, who looked to be setting up for a cross. Instead, he unleashed a ferocious strike from 20 yards out that caught Artur by surprise, whizzing past his head into the back of the net to give Porto the lead.
Artur would have some more work to do before the end of the half and he would handle it well, keeping Porto from adding to their lead. Following the goal, Benfica began to push men forward in numbers and attack quickly, but their attacks were regularly shut down by Fernando and Nicolas Otamendi, who performed very well. On a couple of occasions in the early part in the half, Helton was tested but made three first half saves to keep his team on top, until the 43rd minute.
Benfica's equalizer just before the halftime whistle came on a scramble in front of the box, with Porto struggling to account for the massive Oscar Cardozo. The ball fell to him near the penalty spot and he blasted it into the net with his big left foot, giving Benfica an equalizer that was well deserved.
Not long into the second half, Cardozo would strike again. Though the goal was set up by a fantastic assist, Porto's defending was dire. Pablo Aimar delivered a free kick into the box in the 48th minute, hitting an out-swinging ball from the right side of the pitch. Cardozo somehow found himself completely unmarked and thanks to Aimar's spectacular delivery, had a very simple header to put his team up 2-1.
In the 58th minute, Porto made a risky substitution that would turn out to be a stroke of genius. Vitor Pereira removed central defender Rolando for attacking midfielder James Rodriguez, who was left on the bench because of jetlag and fatigue after his midweek trip to Florida to play with the Colombian national team. That substitution would pay dividends in the 64th minute on a counter attack.
Benfica looked to have an opportunity of their own on the counter just before Porto's equalizer, but Axel Witsel squandered a good shooting opportunity and allowed Porto to take off the other way. Outside of the Benfica box, James and Fernando played a fantastic one-two before Rodriguez unleashed a bullet of a left-footed shot into the back of the net, pulling his team level.
Shortly afterwards, everything would go wrong for the Benfica defense. Ezequiel Garay had to be substituted off in the 71st minute, as he appeared to re-aggravate the ankle injury that he sustained while on international duty with Argentina. Miguel Vitor would come in as his replacement. Just six minutes later, Hulk beat Emerson for pace and the Benfica left back, while already on a yellow card, stuck out his leg and brought down the big Brazilian. The referee showed him a second yellow card, bringing Benfica down to ten men, and without a first choice central defender.
Benfica would eventually pay for their disadvantage and Garay's absence in the 87th minute, when Porto scored the winner on a free kick. After James was fouled on the right flank, he played an in-swinging free kick into the box with his left foot and Maicon got onto the end of it, heading the ball into the back of the net. The goal was not without a bit of controversy, however, as Maicon was clearly offside when James played the ball in.
Though the Eagles fought hard to snatch a late point, creating a number of set piece opportunities of their own, they were unable to find another goal. This is Benfica's third game without victory, and they now trail Porto by three points in the Portuguese Liga table. Considering the directions the two teams are currently heading in, this could have very well been a title deciding victory for the Dragons.