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UEFA Europa League: Benfica 3 Fenerbahce 1 (Agg 3-2)

Benfica beat Fenerbahce 3-1 at the Stadium of Light to set up a UEFA Europa League final showdown against Chelsea.

Nicolas Gaitan scored the first goal of the evening with a clever finish with the outside of his boot before Dirk Kuyt equalised with a penalty. Oscar Cardozo restored Benica’s lead in 35th minute with a fierce drive from the edge of the box before getting his second after half-time with another unstoppable strike inside penalty area to complete a 3-2 aggregate win.

Gaitan returned for Benfica from injury to replace the suspended Ola John while Enzo Perez made his comeback after missing the first-leg through suspension. With Raul Meireles missing the rest of the season through injury, teenager Salih Ucan replaced him in the Fenerbahce midfield.

Benfica started the match in positive fashion as they looked to overturn their first-leg deficit. Cardozo had the first chance of the night, showing neat control on the edge of the box but his half-volley was saved easily.

But the early pressure did pay off for Benfica in the ninth minute as Rodrigo Lima made a clever run down the right and his cut-back was met perfectly by Gaitan, who used the outside of his left-foot to guide the ball home, clipping the post on the way in.

The hosts tried to press home their advantage and Cardozo met a Maxi Pereira cross but failed to get clean contact and headed wide of the goal.

Then, completely against the run of play, Fenerbahce hauled themselves level courtesy of a Kuyt penalty. Ezequiel Garay was adjudged to have handled in the area but the decision looked a harsh one as the ball appeared to strike the Argentine defender while his back was turned during an aerial challenge with Caner Erkin.

Kuyt’s goal changed the dynamic of the game and Moussa Sow twice got behind the Benfica defence, first producing a smart save from Artur Moraes before a heavy touch led to a rushed shot that he put wide of the goal.

The Portuguese side recovered their composure, however, and regained the lead in the 35th minute. A quickly taken Perez free-kick found Cardozo on the edge of the box and he turned brilliantly to find space for the shot and powered his effort into the bottom right-hand corner.

Kuyt almost had a second soon after, a ball flashed across the Benfica six-yard area, it went beyond Sow and found its way to the Dutchman but he side-footed into the side netting from an acute angle.

Benfica once more looked to force the issue after the break, Cardozo once again went close before a crucial interception by Gokhan Gonul stopped Garay heading back across goal to the unmarked Paraguayan.
There was a lengthy break after a brave clearance from Gonul saw hit take a Gaitan volley square in the face. The full-back was carried off on a stretcher to a standing ovation.
Undeterred by the break, Benfica continued to push and took the lead in the tie in the 66th minute. A long throw from the right followed by a miscued Luisao effort led to Cardozo finding space in the box to fire in his second of the game.
Lima had the chance to kill the tie but he shot straight at the goalkeeper after going through one on one with Cardozo screaming for it to his right.
Fenerbahce pushed hard in the final minutes, but they were unable to find a way past the Benfica defence as the Portuguese side celebrated on the final whistle.

Thu 2 May, 2013
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