World Football - Porto beat Benfica in thriller

Fri, 02 Mar 22:10:00 2012

Maicon headed a controversial late winner as Porto went three points clear at the top of the Primeira Liga with a pulsating 3-2 win over 10-man Benfica at the Estadio da Luz.

Porto's players celebrate teammate Maicon's goal against Benfica during their Portuguese Premier League soccer match at Luz stadium in Lisbon March 2, 2012 - 0

Porto took an early lead through Hulk's thunderous effort, but were pegged back before half-time when Oscar Cardozo slammed a shot into the roof of the net after Porto failed to clear a corner.

Benfica sneaked ahead two minutes into the second half when Cardozo headed in his second, but Porto clawed their way back into it through substitute James Rodriguez, who fired in after a lovely one-two with Fernando.

The hosts were reduced to 10 men when Emerson received his second yellow card before Maicon glanced in an 87th minute winner - despite being marginally offside.

It was an electrifying finish to a gripping contest, but the contentious nature of Maicon's goal may prove a bitter pill to swallow if it proves crucial come the end of the season.

Porto went into this game ahead of Benfica courtesy only of their slightly superior goal difference, but showed no signs of sitting back as they pushed forward early on.

And no sooner had the smoke from the flares that had been lit ahead of kick-off cleared, Porto took a seventh minute lead through a stunning Hulk strike.

Cutting in from the right onto his favoured left-foot, Hulk unleashed a ferocious drive from the corner of the penalty box that rocketed past the helpless Artur.

It was a goal worthy of the occasion and, forcing Benfica to attack in search of the equaliser, ignited the contest.

Benfica opened up Porto at will at times and should have drawn level in the 21st minute, but Nolito could only poke his shot straight at Helton after beating the Porto offside trap.

Undeterred, Benfica poured forward with wave after wave of attack and crafted another great chance - but Pablo Aimar could only find the goalkeeper with his header from seven yards.

This was contest that wore its heart on its sleeve and Porto did not sit back - instead they hit Benfica several times on the counter, coming closest to scoring when Artur pulled off a crucial double save - first smothering Marc Janko's effort and then making a brilliant reaction stop from Alvaro Pereira.

But Benfica had a deserved equaliser four minutes before half-time after Porto failed to clear a corner. The loose ball on the edge of the box was hammered at goal by Pereira, and a fortunate ricochet off Axel Witsel fell to Cardozo, who took a touch and drove his shot into the roof of the net.

Benfica didn't allow Porto to settle into the second half and, barely two minutes in, Cardozo had his second - heading in unmarked after Aimar had picked him out with a pinpoint free-kick from the right.

Porto coach Vítor Pereira introduced Rodriguez and it proved to be an inspired change - with Rodriguez finding the net less than 10 minutes after coming on.

As Witsel was stopped by Maicon at one end, Porto counter-attack through Rodriguez, who exchanged a one-two with Fernando, before rifling in a measured shot from the edge of the box.

It was a sensational goal that represented this absorbing contest - but there was more to come.

Benfica's Emerson was dismissed for his second foul on Hulk in quick succession - inviting a sustained period of Porto pressure for the final 10 minutes.

With Benfica looking shaky and defending deeper and deeper, the inevitable happened and Porto snatched a late winner.

As Rodriguez's inswinging free-kick came in from the right, Maicon met the ball ahead of Artur and flicked the ball into the empty net. But replays showed Maicon to be less than a yard offside.

A draw would have been a fair reflection of this riveting encounter - but Benfica come away with nothing and leave arch-rivals Porto in pole position. 

Michael Da Silva - @mjdasilva / Eurosport

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