Joao Felix’s show-stopping hat-trick led Benfica to a valuable 4-2 first-leg victory against a 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday.
The Portugal youth international is considered one of European football’s brightest talents and he delivered on that reputation with a stunning display that overshadowed Luka Jovic’s return to Estadio da Luz.
Serbia striker Jovic, who is in the second term of a two-season loan at Frankfurt from Benfica, got on the scoresheet against his parent club by cancelling out Felix’s spot-kick opener, which came after Evan N’Dicka’s dismissal for bundling over Gedson Fernandes in the box.
But the shimmering homegrown talent netted twice more either side of a Ruben Dias header to become the youngest player to hit a Europa League treble, although Goncalo Paciencia did later give the visitors a handy second away goal to take back to Frankfurt.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) April 11, 2019
Felix first illustrated his sought-after ability in the 20th minute.
The rumoured Manchester United target sent Fernandes scampering into the box with a cute reverse pass and then, following N’Dicka’s panicked push from behind, coolly converted the resultant penalty.
Jovic – tipped to sign for Adi Hutter’s men on a permanent basis at season’s end – responded 20 minutes later, Ante Rebic breaking into the box and selflessly squaring for him, but parity lasted less than three minutes.
Felix this time took it entirely upon himself to brilliantly fire into the bottom-left corner from 25 yards.
Frankfurt looked to have equalised again when Filip Kostic’s tame shot squirmed through Odisseas Vlachodimos, only for the offside flag to go up against two players deemed to have occupied an active position.
Instead, they shipped two more in four second-half minutes.
Dias nodded in Benfica’s third after Felix helped on a corner, before the teenager completed his treble by side-footing through Kevin Trapp’s legs from Alex Grimaldo’s cut-back.
That burst appeared to have dashed the Bundesliga’s side hopes of advancing, but Paciencia headed in fellow substitute Jonathan de Guzman’s corner 18 minutes from the end to inspire hope of a second-leg fightback in seven days’ time.
What does it mean? Frankfurt have hope
The plaudits will all rightly descend on one player, but Frankfurt deserve some credit for the way they kept the tie alive.
Goals from Jovic and Paciencia, both of which came against the run of play, could prove crucial when the teams reconvene in Frankfurt for the second leg.
Felix exudes star quality
A cast of European powerhouses are said to monitoring Felix’s progress and their scouting reports will all be consistent after this outstanding one-man show.
His deft finishing, mature head and readiness to harry defenders adds up to a highly attractive package.
— SL Benfica (@slbenfica_en) April 11, 2019
N’Dicka puts team-mates in peril
Frankfurt entered this match on a 15-game unbeaten streak dating back to before the mid-season break.
N’Dicka’s naive challenge so early in a two-legged affair left the referee with little choice but to brandish a red card and ensured it would be an uphill battle for the away side to maintain their impressive run.
Frankfurt are chasing Champions League qualification in the Bundesliga and will look to rebound at home to Augsburg on Sunday.
Primeira Liga leaders Benfica host Vitoria Setubal on the same day and may look to rest some players with a view to Thursday’s clash in Germany.
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