It took until the start of extra time, but Benfica finally found the one goal they needed, with Jonas scoring off a free kick after Zenit St Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito was sent off for earning a controversial second yellow card. Benfica kept poking and prodding all match long, and it finally came good at the last second.
The first half was a cagey affair, with Benfica and Zenit feeling each other out early on while trying to find each others' weaknesses. The pace of the match slowly started to ramp up as the game progressed, helping lead to a pair of first-half yellow cards for Benfica defenders -- Andre Almeida and Jardel -- that will keep them out of the second leg through accumulation suspensions.
Benfica started to gain something of an upper hand going forward, with Rui Vitoria's side out-shooting Zenit three to one in the first half, including getting the only shot on target in the half. Their efforts came to naught, though, and in terms of actual goalscoring danger, the shot off target by Hulk for Zenit was probably the best chance of the half.
The second half started at a more breakneck pace, with Benfica pushing high and hard right off the bat. Zenit were able to weather the storm and put on some pressure of their own, but sterling work from Benfica's central midfield and central defense let them hold out until they could regroup and start getting forward again.
When they did, it proved costly for Zenit -- while Benfica couldn't score, a pair of mistakes followed by desperation fouls from Zenit players cost them two players for the second leg as well, with midfielder Javi Garcia and left back Domenico Criscito picking up yellow cards and accumulation suspensions of their own. Benfica put on some wicked pressure during that spell, including a stellar shot from Nicolas Gaitan that Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin could barely scramble away.
The match took on an odd tone as the clock started to wind down. There was that air of desperation around the match that often accompanies a desperate late scramble for goals, but by and large the pace of the match slowed down and while there were a few chances for each team to score, they were rarely of any particular danger.
There was one last moment of drama, and it changed the game completely. Criscitio was sent off for a second yellow in the last minute of regular time, giving Benfica a free kick in dangerous territory -- and Zenit paid dearly for it. Gaitan's service looped in and caught Zenit's defense on the wrong foot, allowing Jonas to poke the ball home and give his side a dramatic, last-second win.
The result of this match sets up what should be a desperate and tense second leg in Russia. With both teams missing two key defensive players each, the match should be a bit more wide open than we saw on Tuesday, especially with Zenit at home and chasing a 1-0 aggregate deficit. Will they overturn Benfica's lead? There's only one way to find out, and in this season's Champion's League, anything can happen.
Benfica: Júlio César; Lindelöf, Jardel, André Almeida, Eliseu; Pizzi (Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez 71'), Samaris, Renato Sanches, Nicolas Gaitán; Kostas Mitroglou (Raul Jimenez 63'), Jonas
Goals: Jonas 91'
Zenit St Petersburg: Yuri Lodygin; Aleksandr Anyukov, Nicolas Lombaerts, Ezequiel Garay, Domenico Criscito (red 90'); Oleg Shatov (Yuri Zhirkov 80'), Javi García, Axel Witsel; Danny (Mauricio 87'), Artem Dzyuba (Aleksandr Kokorin 73'), Hulk