Fenerbahce grabbed a hard-fought 1-0 win against Benfica to carve out a slender advantage in the sides’ UEFA Europa League semi-final tie on Thursday.
The hosts struck the woodwork on three separate occasions in the first half but secured the winning goal their performance had merited in the second period courtesy of Egeman Korkmaz.
Aykut Kocaman made two changes from his side’s win over Lazio in the last round, with Caner Erkin’s suspension and Selcuk Sahin’s omission allowing Mehmet Topal and Moussa Sow into the starting XI. Jorge Jesus went one step further than his counterpart, however, with Pablo Aimar, Oscar Cardozo, Maxi Pereira, Andre Gomes and Jardel all starting having missed out against Newcastle.
Perhaps understandably given the stakes, the game got off to a bitty start. Oscar Cardozo’s ongoing physical battle with the Fenerbahce backline provided the only talking point of the opening 10 minutes, and the striker soon received a stern talking to from referee Milorad Mazic as a result.
Just moments after his team-mate had been admonished Aimar was the recipient of the game’s first real chance, but he failed to control his shot inside the area and drove wastefully over the bar. That effort appeared to have opened the floodgates, with Moussa Sow passing Pierre Webo’s cross inches wide before striking the bar with a headed effort in the immediate aftermath.
However, chances proved hard to come by from that point on, with the battle for midfield dominance being only temporarily interrupted by breaks in play which required the referee to hand out a total of five cautions.
The last of those yellow cards almost fittingly provided the breakthrough right at the death – Ola John the recipient after bringing Gokhan Gonul to ground in the box. But Cristian ensured the defender was granted a reprieve, striking the subsequent penalty onto the post before the half-time whistle and leaving the pitch visibly distraught as a result.
The Brazilian in fact almost atoned for his error just minutes into the second half, as his long-distance strike was smartly saved by Artur Moraes, and Raul Meireles drew an equally impressive stop with an effort from a similar part of the pitch just after.
Fenerbahce’s dominance of the first half had been underlined by two strikes of the woodwork, and the Turkish side were cursing their luck again early in the second after Dirk Kuyt turned before hitting a fine shot which bounced back off the post and into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Benfica also got in on the action with 52 minutes gone as Nicolas Gaitan’s wonderful curling effort clipped the outside of the post before going behind, much to the relief of stranded home goalkeeper Volkan Demirel.
Kocaman may well have felt aggrieved that his side had not capitalised on that small slice of luck and their general domination, but Fenerbahce would receive their reward with 72 minutes on the clock. A flicked on header deceived the visiting defenders and allowed Korkmaz to nod home off the post despite Jardel’s best efforts on the line.
And the Turkish side held on to their lead despite a late Benfica onslaught to secure a narrow lead.