Benfica secured their passage into the Champions League quarterfinals with a 2-1 win away at Zenit St. Petersburg on Wednesday. Extra time seemed imminent after Hulk cancelled out Benfica's first leg lead with a goal midway through the second half, though Benfica scored twice in the final few minutes to secure a comfortable 3-1 aggregate win.
The visitors were certainly the more impressive of the two teams in the game's opening exchanges, though only seriously tested Zenit keeper Yuri Lodygin through a Jonas free-kick, which he tipped harmlessly over the crossbar.
Zenit responded with a good chance of their own just a couple of minutes later, though Artem Dzyuba scuffed a routine ball over the top wide of Ederson's goal when clean through. It turned out to be the Russian side's only real opportunity of a fairly uneventful first half.
The closest either side went to breaking the deadlock before the interval came when Benfica's midfield starlet Renato Sanches let fly from the edge of the area, though his drilled effort was angled across the face of goal and finished just wide of the post.
Zenit were much improved after the restart, and dominated from practically the first whistle. They contrived to squander two clear-cut chances in the first 20 minutes, with Igor Smolnikov failing to make clean contact on a Hulk delivery from point-blank range, a few minutes before Dzyuba scooped the ball over from inside the area.
It took until there were just over 20 minutes to go, but eventually Zenit did find an equalizer. Yuri Zhirkov surged down the left and cut a cross back for Hulk, who couldn't miss his header with the Benfica goal gaping. It was a deserved goal for the hosts, who were comfortably on top.
A couple of chances at both ends followed: for Benfica, defender Victor Lindelöf had a header clawed off the line by Lodygin. For Zenit, striker Dzyuba was denied by opposition keeper Ederson after dribbling past several defenders and clean through on goal.
The game was completely open, and both teams were giving their all to find a winner before injury time. It came with five minutes left, and was largely against the run of second half play. A spectacular long-range effort by Benfica's substitute striker Raúl Jiménez cracked off the woodwork and caught Zenit keeper Lodygin completely out of position. He was left stranded when Nico Gaitán arrived to head into an empty net from all of a couple of yards.
It completely took the wind out of the sails of an unfortunate Zenit, who needed to score twice to avoid elimination. They couldn't muster any response of note, and indeed conceded a second when substitute Talisca fired a low shot beyond Lodygin from close range with the last shot of the match.
Zenit St. Petersburg: Yuri Lodygin; Yuri Zhirkov, Luís Neto, Nicolas Lombaerts, Aleksandr Anyukov (Igor Smolnikov 58'); Axel Witsel, Maurício (Artur Yusupov 82'); Aleksandr Kokorin (Oleg Shatov 58'), Danny, Hulk; Artem Dzyuba.
Goals: Hulk (69').
Benfica: Ederson; Ljubomir Fejsa, Victor Lindelöf, Eliseu, Nélson Semedo; Nicolás Gaitán, Renato Sanches, Andreas Samaris, Pizzi (Eduardo Salvio 73'); Kostas Mitroglou (Raúl Jiménez 67'), Jonas (Talisca 90+2').
Goals: Gaitán (85'); Talisca (90+6').
1. The game of two halves cliché is absolutely true
Zenit coach André Villas-Boas will certainly not have been pleased with his side's performance in the first half. The Russian hosts were industrial but ineffective, with their long balls gobbled up by Benfica's solid defense. However, they were much better after the restart, and created a string of excellent chances. By the final whistle, they'll consider themselves unlucky to have been eliminated so late.
2. Andreas Samaris turned in an excellent performance in an unfamiliar role
One of the surprises in Benfica's selection was the inclusion of Greek midfielder Andreas Samaris at center-back â he's more commonly known for playing in the center of midfield. However, he turned in an excellent performance in his makeshift role at the heart of the defense, reading the crosses Zenit angled into the area perfectly in the first half. He was one of their very best performers, and only suffered when the rest of his team buckled in the second half.
3. Yes, it is OK to bring a calendar of a nude Hulk to football matches
Just ask this guy.