The purists will be able to discuss the manner, the style, but Benfica fully deserved its qualification in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. In a great night’s Johan-Cruyff ArenA, Nelson Verissimo’s players were heroic before surprising Ajax in the last quarter of an hour (1-0). A sufficient advantage after the result of the first leg (2-2). Like three weeks ago, the Portuguese will have suffered for almost all of this lively and rhythmic evening, but they will have resisted with abnegation, courage and efficiency at all times.
We did not give much of their skin yet in the heart of the first period, during a huge Dutch highlight. Erik ten Hag’s men unbalanced the Benfiquist block with almost every incursion, with incisive splits extended by as many crosses. But the Lisbon people were able to grit their teeth and ranks, showing unwavering discipline and even responding with a few counter-attacks.
Ajax’s game shone with its combinations (14th, 25th, 39th, 65th) but in the end, the Dutch champion got few clear chances and the hinge of the “old” Otamendi-Vertonghen even managed to raise the challenge of muzzling Sébastien Haller, whose counter will therefore remain stuck at 11 goals.
Benfica finished strong
The more time passed, the more Ajax seemed to get annoyed and lower their foot on their number projections. Quite the opposite of Benfica, who felt the right move coming and grew bolder with the clock. At the start of the last quarter of an hour, Alvarez conceded a somewhat silly free kick for a foul on Ramos. On the off-centre, Darwin Nunez took over Timber but also Onana, punished for his off-time exit (77th, 1-0).
It was cruel for Ten Hag’s men, but it rewarded 90 minutes, then eight more in added time, where Benfica showed admirable resilience. The Portuguese invite themselves to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2016. In the middle of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool, Atlético de Madrid. And it’s deserved.