An excellent strike from Amr Warda secured a precious away goal for PAOK in their 1-1 draw with Benfica in their UEFA Champions League play-off first leg at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday evening.
The Egyptian midfielder profited from a penalty box scramble to stab home and draw the visitors level with only a quarter of the game remaining. Pizzi had previously given Benfica the lead in the first-half from the penalty spot but they were ultimately to be frustrated ahead of the second-leg next week.
Wasteful Pizzi passes up the opportunity to open the scoring
It was a relatively even start to the game, with both sides evidently keen to test their respective goalkeepers. José Ángel Crespo, Aleksandar Prijović and Franco Cervi all had relatively comfortable efforts, whilst José Cañas whistled a shot over the crossbar from range.
The hosts should really have taken the lead mid-way through the first-half as Cervi picked out Pizzi on the penalty spot. Somehow, the midfielder put his effort wide of goal. The Portuguese was then under the spotlight yet again as his delicate chipped effort clipped the top of the crossbar. He twice went close again on two occasions as he had a shot well-held by PAOK keeper Alexandros Paschalakis and then put a deft header just wide of the post.
Benfica strike just before the break
Benfica were given a wonderful chance to claim the lead only minutes before the break as Gedson Fernandes was challenged in the penalty area by Maurício José da Silveira Júnior with the referee pointing to the spot. Pizzi, who was obviously not short of confidence, stepped up and sent Paschalakis the wrong way to finally get his goal. As a result, the hosts went into the break with a valuable lead.
Sumptuous play between Fejsa and Ljubomir Fejsa after half-time resulted in a chance for Facundo Ferreyra on the volley but the PAOK goalkeeper collected comfortably. Alex Grimaldo also aimed for the top corner with a stunning effort but Paschalakis was at his best to claw the ball away.
PAOK silence the Estadio da Luz
PAOK still looked slightly dangerous despite their deficit. Léo Jabá showed excellent feet in the penalty area to manufacture space but he sent his low shot fizzing wide of the post.
Benfica’s vulnerability was exposed with only 15 minutes remaining. From a free-kick, Dimitros Pelkas whipped in an excellent cross that Fernando Varela thundered against the crossbar. The ball fell to substitute Warda, who smashed the ball beyond Vlachomidos to snatch a shock equaliser.
The hosts were frustrated in the closing stages. Ferrerya first had his effort saved by the PAOK stopper and substitute Joao Felix shot marginally wide. Ultimately, Benfica were not able to find a way through and the game ended all square.
What a heroic effort from PAOK, and they now have an excellent chance to reach the group stages of the Champions League. They had a monumental task on their hands to claim anything in Portugal but their resilience shone through.
Benfica, meanwhile, are guilty of spurning numerous glorious opportunities in the game. On another day, they could be heading to Greece with a comfortable first-leg advantage. Having said that, they will need to improve if they are to reach the group stages, especially having surrendered an away goal. The two teams renew rivalries in Thessaloniki next week.
Benfica: Vlachomidos (6); Grimaldo (7), Jardel (6), Alves Dias (6), Almeida (7); Pizzi (8) (Joao Felix (N/A), 80′), Fejsa (6), Gedson (7); Zivokic (7) (Silva (7), 65′), Cervi (6) (Seferovic (N/A), 79′), Ferreyra (7).
PAOK: Paschalakis (7); Vieirinha (6), Crespo (7), Varela (7), Leo Matos (6); Canas (6), Mauricio (5); Limnios (6) (Warda (7), 53′), Pelekas (6), Léo Jabá (7) (Shakov (N/A), 81′); Prijovic (7) (Akpom (N/A), 88′).
Goals: Pizzi PEN (45+1′), Warda (76′)
Referee: Milorad Mazic
Yellow Cards: Gedson (52′), Vieirinha (71′), Almeida (83′), Pelkas (84′), Warda (89′)
Red Cards: N/A
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