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Benfica 2 Astana 0: Gaitan and Mitroglou overpower spirited underdogs

A confident second-half performance saw Benfica begin their European campaign with a 2-0 win over Champions League newcomers Astana on Tuesday.

Nicolas Gaitan opened the scoring in the 51st minute following a neat move involving Konstantinos Mitroglou, with Astana substitute Aleksey Shchetkin having hit the post moments earlier.

A solid first-half display from the visitors was then further undone when Mitroglou found himself on the end of Eliseu’s low cross to tap home.

It was by no means a vintage performance from Benfica, who will need to up their game when they take on bitter rivals FC Porto at the weekend.

But the result will nevertheless be welcomed by coach Rui Vitoria, who has already set his team the goal of qualification from Group C to banish memories of last season’s dismal campaign, when they picked up just one win.

Despite emerging with a defeat, Astana will take heart from their performance, although few will rate their chances of progressing from a group that also includes Atletico and Galatasaray.

Benfica, unchanged from the 6-0 Primeira Liga win over Belenenses, predictably saw plenty of possession during the opening 10 minutes, but struggled to cause any problems for their opponents in the final third.

The visitors set themselves up well at the Estadio da Luz and frustrated the two-time European champions early on.

Foxi Kethevoama stung the palms of Benfica goalkeeper Julio Cesar on 17 minutes with a free-kick on the edge of the area, but the hosts continued to enjoy most of the possession without reward.

Brazilian striker Jonas did catch a glimpse of goal on the half-hour mark with a clever turn inside the box, but his low shot was well saved by the legs of Nenad Eric.

Benfica were nearly punished for their profligacy two minutes later when Bauyrzhan Dzholchiev pinched the ball off Eliseu on the right, before bursting into the area and blazing over from a tight angle.

Despite Astana growing into the game, Benfica should have gone in ahead at the break after Jonas cut through the defence only to be denied by the legs of Eric.

Astana’s half-time substitute Shchetkin gave the hosts a scare moments after the break, latching onto Nemanja Maksimovic’s flick on to poke an effort onto the post from close range.

But Benfica responded, and took the lead on 51 minutes when an outstanding one-two with Mitroglou allowed Gaitan to race into the box and slot home.

The cracks began to show in the Astana defence and Mitroglou should have added a second five minutes later but could only steer his free header wide.

The Greek made amends just after the hour, tapping home from three yards after a terrific low cross from the lively Eliseu.

Benfica took their foot off the gas as the game wound down, although substitute Raul Jimenez came close to adding a third late on, but his sliding effort was diverted wide as Vitoria’s men eased to victory.

Tue 15 Sep, 2015
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