Eurosport - Thu, 01 Apr 21:59:00 2010
Benfica came from behind to take a 2-1 first-leg lead against 10-man Liverpool in their Europa League quarter-final clash at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.
The visitors took an early lead through defender Dan Agger’s superb finish but, after the Reds lost Ryan Babel to a straight red card for violent conduct, Benfica dominated and won on the night thanks to two penalties from the otherwise wasteful Oscar Cardozo.
The Paraguay striker had missed a host of chances with head and feet, belying his reputation as the most fearsome striker in Portugal, but from the spot he was deadly, first after Emiliano Insua’s foul on Pablo Aimar and secondly when Jamie Carragher handled in the box.
His winner and Agger’s opener came about from decisions made by the additional touchline officials employed only in the Europa League, with both infringements missed by referee Jonas Eriksson.
Liverpool started brightly, pegging Benfica back and taking a ninth-minute lead with a goal of the highest quality.
Steven Gerrard, rampaging down the left, was tripped just outside the area by full-back Maxi Pereira, the first of the touchline official’s key contributions.
In a rehearsed move the England midfielder drilled a low ball to the edge of the six-yard box that was met by Agger, who spun and flicked an audacious backheel past the despairing lunge of Luisao and into the bottom left corner.
Benfica woke up and rallied, with Cardozo missing three superb chances - one with his right boot and two with his favoured weapon, the head - and Ramires nodding over from close range.
Liverpool were working hard with Fernando Torres and Babel defending from the front but a moment of madness involving the visiting forward pair reduced them to 10 men.
Luisao was yellow-carded for a foul from behind on Torres that arguably could have been a straight red but, despite having had no involvement in an incident the referee had under control, Dutchman Babel pushed the Brazilian defender in the face and was given his marching orders.
There was a minute of confusion as to who should walk as Swedish referee Eriksson initially showed Luisao the yellow a second time before producing the red, but it was later confirmed that he was merely reiterating the booking, with the Brazilian apparently having missed the original card in the melee with Babel.
Benfica then dominated the remainder of the half, with Argentina wide-man Angel Di Maria causing all kinds of problems and sending a low shot just wide and having another effort blocked, while Javi Garcia put wide from close range after Cardozo flicked on David Luiz’s long throw.
Insua picked up a booking that rules him out of the return leg at Anfield after Aimar, who was growing into the match, skinned him on the right.
It was more of the same in the second half, as Cardozo continued to miss free headers while Aimar showed off his dribbling and tumbling skills as he did his best to earn a penalty.
Eventually his approach paid off just before the hour mark, although it was a clear trip from Insua as the Argentine picked up the loose ball after Cardozo rifled a superb free-kick off the post.
Cardozo hit his 29th goal of the season, drilling a ferocious low spot-kick past Pepe Reina into the bottom right, and Liverpool’s backs were against the wall.
Torres had a gilt-edged chance to get a second away goal for Liverpool but the Spain striker somehow put wide after racing clear on the counter attack following an incessant spell of Benfica pressure.
Soon afterwards Liverpool were 2-1 down after one of the additional Europa League officials correctly adjudged Carragher to have blocked Di Maria’s cross with his outstretched hand, an infringement referee Eriksson missed.
Cardozo stepped up and rolled the ball into the same corner as his first penalty to take his season tally to 30.
Liverpool were clearly tiring but after five minutes of added time they managed to waste time, slow the game and restrict Benfica’s lead to take a crucial away goal back to Anfield next week.