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Benfica v Spurs, 20.03.14

(Benfica win 5-3 on aggregate)

Benfica scorers:-
Garay, 34
Lima, 90 (+5) (pen)

Spurs scorer:-
Chadli, 78, 79

Attendance:- Est. 40,000

Referee:- Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Assistants:- Bojan UI (Slovenia) & Gianluca Cariolato (Italy)
Additional assistants:- Slavko Vincic & Roberto Ponis (Slovenia)
Fourth official:- Jure Praprotnik (Slovenia)

Benfica (4-3-3):- Oblak; Maxi Pereira, Luisao (Capt.), Garay, Siqueira; Salvio, Gomes, Amorim; Djuricic (sub Perez, 71), Cardozo (sub Lima, 76), Sulejmani (sub Markovic, 93)

Subs not used:- Lopes; Jardel, Almeida; Rodrigo

Booked:- Luisao (foul on Soldado), Perez (foul on Lennon)

Spurs (4-1-4-1):- Friedel; Naughton, Sandro, Fryers, Rose; Bentaleb; Lennon (Capt.), Sigurdsson, Chadli, Townsend (sub Eriksen, 76); Soldado (sub Kane, 71)

Subs not used:- Archer (56); Ball (64), Veljkovic (51), Ogilvie (63); Winks (62)

No bookings

The heroic Nacer Chadli

A somewhat youthful and inexperienced team, and a kindergarten bench was all that Tim Sherwood could put out in the second leg of this Round of 16 tie, played in the impressive Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. The hosts Benfica were already 3-1 up after their first leg win at White Hart Lane, but a heroic Spurs side so nearly took them to extra time, and who knows what. My headline after Sunday’s defeat against Arsenal was “The unforgiven Nacer Chadli”, because of his missed hat-trick of chances. Note that I used the term unforgiven and not unforgiveable, because I personally have had more time for Chadli than have most Spurs fans. After we beat Newcastle 4-0 at St. James’ Park in February, the chant rang out “4-0 and even Chadli scored”, indicating the derision usually fired at Chadli, who is a Belgian International, who will be going to the World Cup in Brazil this summer.

Well, tonight in Lisbon, Chadli was the Spurs hero, scoring two goals in quick succession (assisted by substitute Harry Kane, who is also a regular target for the negative observers). That gave Spurs a 2-1 lead on the night, and they had several chances to score another goal, which would have taken the tie to extra time. In the end, stand-in centre half Sandro, who had always been enthusiastic, sometimes fortunate, but often skilful, conceded what was a last-kick penalty for Benfica, who thus got a 2-2 draw on the night, and a 5-3 aggregate win.

In gaining a draw on the night, Tim Sherwood ended the run of three consecutive defeats, having risked emulating David Pleat who was the last Spurs manager to suffer that ignominy a full 10 years ago. Sherwood had left Kaboul, Adebayor, Paulinho and Walker at home, nursing injuries that we must hope do not keep them all out of Sunday’s Premier League game. Jan Vertonghen was suspended for this leg, and will be available on Sunday.

Benfica’s manager Jorge Jesus left two star strikers Lima and Rodrigo on the bench, but still had a strong team out. Zeki Fryers partnered Sandro, whilst Bentaleb sat behind the midfield four, with Soldado on his own up front. Chadli sought to support Soldado whenever possible, but also could be found across the midfield. The early Spurs Odyssey voters have recognised Chadli’s contribution to the whole game, as he leads the man of the match vote by a distance at the time of writing. Nabil Bentaleb, also a regular target for baiters, sometimes alleged to be Sherwood’s love child, also had an excellent game, which has also been recognised.

Tim Sherwood chose to watch the whole match from the Directors’ box, where he sat directly behind Spurs chairman Daniel Levy. Chris Ramsey operated in the technical area, so there would be no repeat of last week’s shenanigans with Jorge Jesus.

The home side seemed to be operating with restraint in the early stages, and had the first clear chance after a corner taken on the right. Both centre backs were in the box, and Garay headed from the back of the area to skipper Luisao, who scored twice last week, but this time headed over. Luisao then got a yellow card for halting Soldado in his tracks as the Spurs striker headed towards goal. Sigurdsson’s free kick was deflected for a corner. Three minutes later, Soldado and Chadli had a good interchange down the right flank, with Chadli winning another Spurs corner. After the corner, Soldado got the best chance of the game so far at the back post. However he hit his shot into the ground, and it bounced over the goal. Two Spurs players were available for him in the middle, but it was a legitimate shooting chance, just poorly taken.

After 20 minutes, Djuricic got past Fryers down the right side of the Spurs area. His cross reached Sandro, whose touch to goalkeeper Friedel was interpreted as a mis-controlled effort, rather than a back pass. Chadli and Soldado forged a good break for Spurs, with successful training ground touches. The ball reached Townsend, who sadly lost control. Townsend was as usual seeing plenty of the ball, but not often managing a good enough end product. Soldado had a half-chance in the box, which was deflected over for a corner, from which Chadli had a header go wide at the back post.

The 3,000 travelling fans were heard in good voice at this stage of the game. Sherwood had said that the players owed a performance to those fans, and to those watching at home. Aaron Lennon, who was captain for the first time since Maribor away last season, sent Chadli away down the right flank. Chadli’s cross was intended for Soldado, but was not quite close enough to the striker.

Spurs suffered badly after Townsend was fouled out on the left flank. Sigurdsson shaped to hit the ball into the box, but tried a pass backwards to confuse the opposition. Sadly, Spurs lost the ball, and were caught on the hop at the back, with Lennon having to chase back down the left flank, as Salvio crossed and Garay headed home following a corner that Spurs conceded from the Benfica counter-attack.

Five minutes after the re-start, Spurs suffered a little pressure when Benfica won a corner. Friedel made a poor thrown clearance, and then Sigurdsson’s attempted pass back to his defence failed, but somehow Spurs got away with these discrepancies. Townsend and Rose won a corner for Spurs, taken by Sigurdsson but sent directly to the arms of the keeper. Chadli sent a great ball into the 6 yard area, and Sigurdsson had moved well, trying desperately to get a killer touch on the ball, but the ball ran to the keeper.

Bentaleb sent an arrowed pass to Townsend on the left, and Townsend had his best effort of the game as he cut in and hit a low shot into the side netting.

Soldado was replaced by Harry Kane after 71 minutes. Townsend slipped a ball to Chadli, whose shot was picked up by Oblak. Eriksen then replaced Townsend. Now Spurs had a superb two minutes. Firstly from route one football, when Friedel hit a long kick, Kane headed the ball on and Chadli hit a right footed shot inside the keeper’s right post. Within two minutes, Spurs were ahead on the night and one goal away from forcing extra time. This time Lennon crossed from the right; Kane headed the ball back across goal, and Chadli (testing the offside flag) hooked in a left foot shot from close range.

Chances came to get that extra goal. Firstly Lennon got the ball beyond the keeper from the right, but one of the defenders hit it back across goal (forward) to the keeper. Harry Kane might have been awarded a penalty as he went down on the edge of the box under Sulejmani’s challenge, but the home side got away with that one. As we went into added time, Chadli hit a cross from the left. Sigurdsson had a great chance to head home at the back post, but the keeper made the save. Then Chadli combined with Eriksen on the right and crossed for Kane, whose header was also saved.

The final act came with that Sandro foul and penalty conversion by substitute Lima, but Spurs were the unlikely heroes on the night, which could have been one of those unforgettable European nights. Now we just have to get as many points as possible from the last 8 league games.

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